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Elife. 2016 Aug 30;5. pii: e17089. doi: 10.7554/eLife.17089.

Grid-cell representations in mental simulation.

Author information

Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and Centre for Neural Computation, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.
Department of Neuropsychology, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Ruhr University Bochum, Bochum, Germany.


Anticipating the future is a key motif of the brain, possibly supported by mental simulation of upcoming events. Rodent single-cell recordings suggest the ability of spatially tuned cells to represent subsequent locations. Grid-like representations have been observed in the human entorhinal cortex during virtual and imagined navigation. However, hitherto it remains unknown if grid-like representations contribute to mental simulation in the absence of imagined movement. Participants imagined directions between building locations in a large-scale virtual-reality city while undergoing fMRI without re-exposure to the environment. Using multi-voxel pattern analysis, we provide evidence for representations of absolute imagined direction at a resolution of 30° in the parahippocampal gyrus, consistent with the head-direction system. Furthermore, we capitalize on the six-fold rotational symmetry of grid-cell firing to demonstrate a 60° periodic pattern-similarity structure in the entorhinal cortex. Our findings imply a role of the entorhinal grid-system in mental simulation and future thinking beyond spatial navigation.


fMRI; grid cells; human; imagination; navigation; neuroscience; planning; spatial cognition

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