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Coherent representations of subjective spatial position in primary visual cortex and hippocampus

By Aman B Saleem, E. Mika Diamanti, Julien Fournier, Kenneth D Harris, Matteo Carandini

Posted 18 Dec 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/235648 (published DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0516-1)

A major role of vision is to guide navigation, and navigation is strongly driven by vision. Indeed, the brain's visual and navigational systems are known to interact, and signals related to position in the environment have been suggested to appear as early as in visual cortex. To establish the nature of these signals we recorded in primary visual cortex (V1) and in the CA1 region of the hippocampus while mice traversed a corridor in virtual reality. The corridor contained identical visual landmarks in two positions, so that a purely visual neuron would respond similarly in those positions. Most V1 neurons, however, responded solely or more strongly to the landmarks in one position. This modulation of visual responses by spatial location was not explained by factors such as running speed. To assess whether the modulation is related to navigational signals and to the animal's subjective estimate of position, we trained the mice to lick for a water reward upon reaching a reward zone in the corridor. Neuronal populations in both CA1 and V1 encoded the animal's position along the corridor, and the errors in their representations were correlated. Moreover, both representations reflected the animal's subjective estimate of position, inferred from the animal's licks, better than its actual position. Indeed, when animals licked in a given location — whether correct or incorrect — neural populations in both V1 and CA1 placed the animal in the reward zone. We conclude that visual responses in V1 are tightly controlled by navigational signals, which are coherent with those encoded in hippocampus, and reflect the animal's subjective position in the environment. The presence of such navigational signals as early as in a primary sensory area suggests that these signals permeate sensory processing in the cortex.

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