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Hippocampus. 2011 Feb;21(2):150-61. doi: 10.1002/hipo.20731.

Dynamics of hippocampal spatial representation in echolocating bats.

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Department of Psychology and Institute for Systems Research, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA.


The "place fields" of hippocampal pyramidal neurons are not static. For example, upon a contextual change in the environment, place fields may "remap" within typical timescales of ~ 1 min. A few studies have shown more rapid dynamics in hippocampal activity, linked to internal processes, such as switches between spatial reference frames or changes within the theta cycle. However, little is known about rapid hippocampal place field dynamics in response to external, sensory stimuli. Here, we studied this question in big brown bats, echolocating mammals in which we can readily measure rapid changes in sensory dynamics (sonar signals), as well as rapid behavioral switches between distal and proximal exploratory modes. First, we show that place field size was modulated by the availability of sensory information, on a timescale of ~ 300 ms: Bat hippocampal place fields were smallest immediately after an echolocation call, but place fields "diffused" with the passage of time after the call, when echo information was no longer arriving. Second, we show rapid modulation of hippocampal place fields as the animal switched between two exploratory modes. Third, we compared place fields and spatial view fields of individual neurons and found that place tuning was much more pronounced than spatial view tuning. In addition, dynamic fluctuations in spatial view tuning were stronger than fluctuations in place tuning. Taken together, these results suggest that spatial representation in mammalian hippocampus can be very rapidly modulated by external sensory and behavioral events.

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