Nature 463, 657-661 (4 February 2010) | doi:10.1038/nature08704; Received 17 August 2009; Accepted 16 November 2009; Published online 20 January 2010

Evidence for grid cells in a human memory network

Christian F. Doeller1,2, Caswell Barry1,3,4 & Neil Burgess1,2

  1. UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, London WC1N 3AR, UK
  2. UCL Institute of Neurology, London WC1N 3BG, UK
  3. UCL Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, London WC1E 6BT, UK
  4. UCL Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience, University College London, London WC1H 0AP, UK

Correspondence to: Christian F. Doeller1,2Neil Burgess1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to C.F.D. (Email: c.doeller@ucl.ac.uk) or N.B. (Email: n.burgess@ucl.ac.uk).

Grid cells in the entorhinal cortex of freely moving rats provide a strikingly periodic representation of self-location1 which is indicative of very specific computational mechanisms2, 3, 4. However, the existence of grid cells in humans and their distribution throughout the brain are unknown. Here we show that the preferred firing directions of directionally modulated grid cells in rat entorhinal cortex are aligned with the grids, and that the spatial organization of grid-cell firing is more strongly apparent at faster than slower running speeds. Because the grids are also aligned with each other1, 5, we predicted a macroscopic signal visible to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in humans. We then looked for this signal as participants explored a virtual reality environment, mimicking the rats’ foraging task: fMRI activation and adaptation showing a speed-modulated six-fold rotational symmetry in running direction. The signal was found in a network of entorhinal/subicular, posterior and medial parietal, lateral temporal and medial prefrontal areas. The effect was strongest in right entorhinal cortex, and the coherence of the directional signal across entorhinal cortex correlated with spatial memory performance. Our study illustrates the potential power of combining single-unit electrophysiology with fMRI in systems neuroscience. Our results provide evidence for grid-cell-like representations in humans, and implicate a specific type of neural representation in a network of regions which supports spatial cognition and also autobiographical memory.


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