Spatial orientation: New model for the origin of grid cells

July 21, 2017

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich neurobiologists present a new theory for the origin of the grid cells required for spatial orientation in the mammalian brain, which assigns a vital role to the timing of trains of signals they receive from neurons called place cells.

Nerve cells in the brain known as place cells and grid cells, respectively, play a crucial role in spatial navigation in mammals. Individual place cells in the hippocampus respond to only a few spatial locations. The grid cells in the entorhinal complex, on the other hand, fire at multiple positions in the environment, such that specific sets are consecutively activated as an animal traverses its habitat. These activation patterns give rise to a virtual map, made up of a hexagonal arrangement of grid cells that reflect the relative distances between particular landmarks in the real world. The brain is therefore capable of constructing a virtual map which encodes its own position in space. The Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology 2015 went to the discoverers of this system, which has been referred to as the brain's GPS. However, the developmental relationship between place cells and grid cells, as well as the mechanism of origin of grid cells and their disposition in hexagonal lattices remain unclear. Now LMU neurobiologists Professor Christian Leibold and his coworker Mauro Miguel Monsalve Mercado have proposed a new theoretical model, which for the first time provides a plausible model based on known biological processes. The model implies that the development of grid cells and their response fields depend on synaptic input from place cells. The new findings are described in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The authors of the new paper assign a central role in their model to correlations in the timing of the neuronal response sequences generated by different place cells. The members of these groups become active when the animal reaches certain locations in space, and they transmit nerve impulses in precisely coordinated temporal sequences, which follow a particular rhythmic patterns, and thereby encode relative spatial distances. Leibold and Monsalve Mercado have used a classical neuronal learning rule, known as Hebb's rule, to analyze the temporal correlations between the firing patterns of place cells and the organization of the grid cells. Hebb's rule states that repeated activation of two functionally coupled neurons in quick succession progressively enhances the efficiency of synaptic transmission between them. By applying this concept of activity-dependent synaptic plasticity to the correlated temporal firing patterns of place cells, the authors can account for the formation of the hexagonal dispositions of grid cells observed in freely navigating mammals.

"The models so far proposed to explain the development of grid cells on the basis of input from place cells were unspecific about the precises underlying biological mechanisms. We have now, for the first time, been able to construct a coherent model for the origin of grid cells which makes use of known biological mechanisms," says Christian Leibold. The new model implies that grid cells are generated by a neuronal learning process. This process exploits synaptic plasticity to transform temporal coordinated signaling between place cells into the hexagonal patterns of grid-cells reponses observed in the entorhinal complex. The model therefore predicts that the grid cells should first arise in the deep layers of the entorhinal cortex.
-end-


Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.