Author Summary Many animals use a form of dead reckoning known as ‘path integration’ to maintain a sense of their location as they explore the world. However, internal motion signals and the neural activity that integrates them can be noisy, leading inevitably to inaccurate position estimates. The rat hippocampus and entorhinal cortex support a flexible system of spatial representation that is critical to spatial learning and memory. The position signal encoded by this system is thought to rely on path integration, but it must be recalibrated by familiar landmarks to maintain accuracy. To explore the interaction between path integration and external landmarks, we present a model of hippocampal activity based on the interference of theta-frequency oscillations that are modulated by realistic animal movements around a track. We show that spatial activity degrades with noise, but introducing external cues based on direct sensory feedback can prevent this degradation. When these cues are put into conflict with each other, their interaction produces a diverse array of response changes that resembles experimental observations. Feedback driven by attending to landmarks may be critical to navigation and spatial memory in mammals.
Abstract Mammals navigate by integrating self-motion signals (‘path integration’) and occasionally fixing on familiar environmental landmarks. The rat hippocampus is a model system of spatial representation in which place cells are thought to integrate both sensory and spatial information from entorhinal cortex. The localized firing fields of hippocampal place cells and entorhinal grid cells demonstrate a phase relationship with the local theta (6–10 Hz) rhythm that may be a temporal signature of path integration. However, encoding self-motion in the phase of theta oscillations requires high temporal precision and is susceptible to idiothetic noise, neuronal variability, and a changing environment. We present a model based on oscillatory interference theory, previously studied in the context of grid cells, in which transient temporal synchronization among a pool of path-integrating theta oscillators produces hippocampal-like place fields. We hypothesize that a spatiotemporally extended sensory interaction with external cues modulates feedback to the theta oscillators. We implement a form of this cue-driven feedback and show that it can restore learned fixed-points in the phase code of position. A single cue can smoothly reset oscillator phases to correct for both systematic errors and continuous noise in path integration. Further, simulations in which local and global cues are rotated against each other reveal a phase-code mechanism in which conflicting cue arrangements can reproduce experimentally observed distributions of ‘partial remapping’ responses. This abstract model demonstrates that phase-code feedback can provide stability to the temporal coding of position during navigation and may contribute to the context-dependence of hippocampal spatial representations. While the anatomical substrates of these processes have not been fully characterized, our findings suggest several signatures that can be evaluated in future experiments.