Hippocampal place cells encode global location but not changes in environmental connectivity


Flexible navigation relies on a cognitive map of space, thought to be implemented by hippocampal place cells: neurons that exhibit location-specific firing. In connected environments, optimal navigation requires keeping track of one’s location and of the available connections between subspaces. We examined whether the dorsal CA1 place cells of rats encode environmental connectivity in four geometrically-identical boxes arranged in a square. Rats moved between boxes by pushing saloon-type doors that could be locked in one or both directions. While rats demonstrated knowledge of environmental connectivity, their place cells did not respond to connectivity changes, nor did they represent doorways differently from other locations. Importantly, place cells coded the space in a global frame, expressing minimal repetitive fields despite the repetitive geometry (global coding). These results suggest that CA1 place cells provide a spatial map that does not explicitly include connectivity.