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Over the river, through the woods: cognitive maps in the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex

Abstract

The hippocampus and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) both have important roles in cognitive processes such as learning, memory and decision making. Nevertheless, research on the OFC and hippocampus has proceeded largely independently, and little consideration has been given to the importance of interactions between these structures. Here, evidence is reviewed that the hippocampus and OFC encode parallel, but interactive, cognitive 'maps' that capture complex relationships between cues, actions, outcomes and other features of the environment. A better understanding of the interactions between the OFC and hippocampus is important for understanding the neural bases of flexible, goal-directed decision making.

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Figure 1: Hippocampal and orbitofrontal cognitive mapping.
Figure 2: Cognitive maps in action.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank members of the Schoenbaum laboratory for helpful discussions on the topics addressed here and for feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript. This work was supported by funding from the US National Institute on Drug Abuse at the Intramural Research Program. The opinions expressed in this article are the authors' own and do not reflect the view of the US National Institutes of Health, the US Department of Health and Human Services or the US government.

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Glossary

Economic value

An integrative measure of how good an outcome is to a decision maker that distils the many multidimensional features of that outcome into a unidimensional measure of worth.

Outcome devaluation

The process of rendering a normally appetitive outcome aversive, typically by pairing it with illness.

Place cells

Pyramidal neurons in the hippocampus that fire action potentials when an animal occupies or passes through particular portions of the environment.

Reinforcement-learning models

A collection of machine-learning models that are inspired by psychological learning theory and that are aimed at solving the problem of using experience of the world to guide future behaviour.

Representational similarity analysis

An analysis approach that quantifies the similarity (or dissimilarity) of neural ensemble representations evoked by different conditions.

Response inhibition

The active suppression of actions that are not adaptive in the current setting.

Specific satiety

A means of devaluing a particular outcome by allowing an animal unrestricted access to it before a test session.

Stimulus–stimulus associations

Associations that are formed between neutral stimuli in the environment in the absence of explicit reinforcement.

Vicarious trial and error

(VTE). A pause and orient pattern of behaviour that decision makers often show when deliberating over potential choices. This is thought to be an overt marker of covert, mental processes that simulate potential outcomes of each course of action.

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Wikenheiser, A., Schoenbaum, G. Over the river, through the woods: cognitive maps in the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex. Nat Rev Neurosci 17, 513–523 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn.2016.56

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