Date of Graduation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
James J. Knierim
The hippocampus receives input from upper levels of the association cortex and is implicated in many mnemonic processes, but the exact mechanisms by which it codes and stores information is an unresolved topic. This work examines the flow of information through the hippocampal formation while attempting to determine the computations that each of the hippocampal subfields performs in learning and memory. The formation, storage, and recall of hippocampal-dependent memories theoretically utilize an autoassociative attractor network that functions by implementing two competitive, yet complementary, processes. Pattern separation, hypothesized to occur in the dentate gyrus (DG), refers to the ability to decrease the similarity among incoming information by producing output patterns that overlap less than the inputs. In contrast, pattern completion, hypothesized to occur in the CA3 region, refers to the ability to reproduce a previously stored output pattern from a partial or degraded input pattern.
Prior to addressing the functional role of the DG and CA3 subfields, the spatial firing properties of neurons in the dentate gyrus were examined. The principal cell of the dentate gyrus, the granule cell, has spatially selective place fields; however, the behavioral correlates of another excitatory cell, the mossy cell of the dentate polymorphic layer, are unknown. This report shows that putative mossy cells have spatially selective firing that consists of multiple fields similar to previously reported properties of granule cells. Other cells recorded from the DG had single place fields. Compared to cells with multiple fields, cells with single fields fired at a lower rate during sleep, were less likely to burst, and were more likely to be recorded simultaneously with a large population of neurons that were active during sleep and silent during behavior. These data suggest that single-field and multiple-field cells constitute at least two distinct cell classes in the DG. Based on these characteristics, we propose that putative mossy cells tend to fire in multiple, distinct locations in an environment, whereas putative granule cells tend to fire in single locations, similar to place fields of the CA1 and CA3 regions.
Experimental evidence supporting the theories of pattern separation and pattern completion comes from both behavioral and electrophysiological tests. These studies specifically focused on the function of each subregion and made implicit assumptions about how environmental manipulations changed the representations encoded by the hippocampal inputs. However, the cell populations that provided these inputs were in most cases not directly examined. We conducted a series of studies to investigate the neural activity in the entorhinal cortex, dentate gyrus, and CA3 in the same experimental conditions, which allowed a direct comparison between the input and output representations. The results show that the dentate gyrus representation changes between the familiar and cue altered environments more than its input representations, whereas the CA3 representation changes less than its input representations. These findings are consistent with longstanding computational models proposing that (1) CA3 is an associative memory system performing pattern completion in order to recall previous memories from partial inputs, and (2) the dentate gyrus performs pattern separation to help store different memories in ways that reduce interference when the memories are subsequently recalled.
dentate gyrus, pattern separation, pattern completion, entorhinal cortex, tetrodes, extracellular recordings, memory storage, memory recall, place cells, recording from freely moving rat