Is there a pilot in the brain? Contribution of the self-positioning system to spatial navigation


  • Poucet Bruno
  • Chaillan Franck
  • Truchet Bruno
  • Save Etienne
  • Sargolini Francesca
  • Hok Vincent


  • Landmark-based navigation
  • Motion-based navigation
  • Place cells
  • Hippocampus
  • Rat

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Since the discovery of place cells, the hippocampus is thought to be the neural substrate of a cognitive map. The later discovery of head direction cells, grid cells and border cells, as well as of cells with more complex spatial signals, has led to the idea that there is a brain system devoted to providing the animal with the information required to achieve efficient navigation. Current questioning is focused on how these signals are integrated in the brain. In this review, we focus on the issue of how self-localization is performed in the hippocampal place cell map. To do so, we first shortly review the sensory information used by place cells and then explain how this sensory information can lead to two coding modes, respectively based on external landmarks (allothetic information) and self-motion cues (idiothetic information). We hypothesize that these two modes can be used concomitantly with the rat shifting from one mode to the other during its spatial displacements. We then speculate that sequential reactivation of place cells could participate in the resetting of self-localization under specific circumstances and in learning a new environment. Finally, we provide some predictions aimed at testing specific aspects of the proposed ideas.

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