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A critical review of the allocentric spatial representation and its neural underpinnings: toward a network-based perspective


While the widely studied allocentric spatial representation holds a special status in neuroscience research, its exact nature and neural underpinnings continue to be the topic of debate, particularly in humans. Here, based on a review of human behavioral research, we argue that allocentric representations do not provide the kind of map-like, metric representation one might expect based on past theoretical work. Instead, we suggest that almost all tasks used in past studies involve a combination of egocentric and allocentric representation, complicating both the investigation of the cognitive basis of an allocentric representation and the task of identifying a brain region specifically dedicated to it. Indeed, as we discuss in detail, past studies suggest numerous brain regions important to allocentric spatial memory in addition to the hippocampus, including parahippocampal, retrosplenial, and prefrontal cortices. We thus argue that although allocentric computations will often require the hippocampus, particularly those involving extracting details across temporally specific routes, the hippocampus is not necessary for all allocentric computations. We instead suggest that a non-aggregate network process involving multiple interacting brain areas, including hippocampus and extra-hippocampal areas such as parahippocampal, retrosplenial, prefrontal, and parietal cortices, better characterizes the neural basis of spatial representation during navigation. According to this model, an allocentric representation does not emerge from the computations of a single brain region (i.e., hippocampus) nor is it readily decomposable into additive computations performed by separate brain regions. Instead, an allocentric representation emerges from computations partially shared across numerous interacting brain regions. We discuss our non-aggregate network model in light of existing data and provide several key predictions for future experiments.

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