Neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including NERF group leader Fabian Kloosterman, have presented a new method to extract information about the spatial layout of an environment from brain activity.
Already in the 1970s it was discovered that a group of neurons in the hippocampus of rats are specifically tuned to the rat’s location in the environment. During exploration, the ensemble activity in the hippocampus predictably transitions between states according to the path of the animal. The new method analyzes these coherent transitions in neural activity to reveal the topological structure of the explored environment. In future studies, this new method may be used to reveal and characterize internal representations of space when there is no knowledge about the represented physical environment, for example during sleep.
Chen Z, Kloosterman F, Brown EN, Wilson MA, Uncovering spatial topology represented by rat hippocampal population neuronal codes. J Comput Neurosci 33, 227–55 (2012).