|The hippocampus is a brain structure that is thought to have an important role in memory, particularly spatial memory. Recordings of single neurons in the hippocampus of rats as the animals explore their environment find that a given hippocampal neuron will tend to be active when the animal enters a particular region of the environment. These cells are thus known as place cells. It is thought that the activity of place cells acts like a kind of neural "map", telling the animal where it is. Acting in concert with place cells are head direction cells, which seem to indicate which way the animal is facing. Recently, a remarkable new class of neuron was discovered by the Moser lab in Trondheim: these are known as the grid cells, and they may function as a kind of metric (like a sheet of graph paper) for the map to be built on.|
My lab is interested in how place cells work and what they are for. In humans, the hippocampus seems to have an important role not only in spatial behaviour and navigation, but also in memory for life events. It is thought that perhaps our memory for events (episodic memory) is built upon a spatial framework. If this is true, then understanding the "map" in the hippocampus may help us understand episodic memory, and the things that go wrong with it in conditions like Alzheimer's disease.