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Linking hippocampal multiplexed tuning, Hebbian plasticity and navigation


Three major pillars of hippocampal function are spatial navigation1, Hebbian synaptic plasticity2 and spatial selectivity3. The hippocampus is also implicated in episodic memory4, but the precise link between these four functions is missing. Here we report the multiplexed selectivity of dorsal CA1 neurons while rats performed a virtual navigation task using only distal visual cues5, similar to the standard water maze test of spatial memory1. Neural responses primarily encoded path distance from the start point and the head angle of rats, with a weak allocentric spatial component similar to that in primates but substantially weaker than in rodents in the real world. Often, the same cells multiplexed and encoded path distance, angle and allocentric position in a sequence, thus encoding a journey-specific episode. The strength of neural activity and tuning strongly correlated with performance, with a temporal relationship indicating neural responses influencing behaviour and vice versa. Consistent with computational models of associative and causal Hebbian learning6,7, neural responses showed increasing clustering8 and became better predictors of behaviourally relevant variables, with the average neurometric curves exceeding and converging to psychometric curves. Thus, hippocampal neurons multiplex and exhibit highly plastic, task- and experience-dependent tuning to path-centric and allocentric variables to form episodic sequences supporting navigation.

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