Navigating life

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


The discoveries of "place cells" in the hippocampus and "grid cells" in the entorhinal cortex are landmark achievements in relating behavior to neural activity, permitting analysis of a powerful system for spatial representation in the brain. The contributions of this work include not only the empirical findings but also the approach this work pioneered of examining neural activity in complex behaviors with real ecological validity in freely moving animals, and of attempting to place the findings in the larger context of how the neural representations of space are used in service of real-world behavior, namely what the Nobel committee described as permitting us to "navigate our way through a complex environment." These discoveries and approaches have had far-ranging impact on and implications for work in human cognitive neuroscience, where we see (1) confirmation in humans that the hippocampus and overlying MTL cortex are critically engaged in supporting a relational representation of space, and that it can be used for flexible spatial navigation and (2) evidence that these regions are also critically involved in aspects of relational memory not limited to space, and in the flexible use of hippocampal memory extending beyond spatial navigation. Recent work, using tasks that emphasize the requirement for the active use of memory in online processing, just as spatial navigation has long placed such a requirement on rodents, suggests that the hippocampus and related MTL cortex can support the navigating of environments even more complex than what is needed in spatial navigation. It allows us to use memory in guiding upcoming actions and choices to act optimally in and on the world, permitting us to navigate life in all its beautiful complexity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)704-708
Number of pages5
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Hippocampus
  • Navigation
  • Relational memory
  • Space

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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