Predictive Place-Cell Sequences for Goal-Finding Emerge from Goal Memory and the Cognitive Map: A Computational Model


Hippocampal place-cell sequences observed during awake immobility often represent previous experience, suggesting a role in memory processes. However, recent reports of goals being overrepresented in sequential activity suggest a role in short-term planning, although a detailed understanding of the origins of hippocampal sequential activity and of its functional role is still lacking. In particular, it is unknown which mechanism could support efficient planning by generating place-cell sequences biased toward known goal locations, in an adaptive and constructive fashion. To address these questions, we propose a model of spatial learning and sequence generation as interdependent processes, integrating cortical contextual coding, synaptic plasticity and neuromodulatory mechanisms into a map-based approach. Following goal learning, sequential activity emerges from continuous attractor network dynamics biased by goal memory inputs. We apply Bayesian decoding on the resulting spike trains, allowing a direct comparison with experimental data. Simulations show that this model (1) explains the generation of never-experienced sequence trajectories in familiar environments, without requiring virtual self-motion signals, (2) accounts for the bias in place-cell sequences toward goal locations, (3) highlights their utility in flexible route planning, and (4) provides specific testable predictions.

Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience 11:84. doi:10.3389/fncom.2017.00084