Origin and role of path integration in the cognitive representations of the hippocampus: Computational insights into open questions

Francesco Savelli, James J. Knierim

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Path integration is a straightforward concept with varied connotations that are important to different disciplines concerned with navigation, such as ethology, cognitive science, robotics and neuroscience. In studying the hippocampal formation, it is fruitful to think of path integration as a computation that transforms a sense of motion into a sense of location, continuously integrated with landmark perception. Here, we review experimental evidence that path integration is intimately involved in fundamental properties of place cells and other spatial cells that are thought to support a cognitive abstraction of space in this brain system. We discuss hypotheses about the anatomical and computational origin of path integration in the well-characterized circuits of the rodent limbic system. We highlight how computational frameworks for map-building in robotics and cognitive science alike suggest an essential role for path integration in the creation of a new map in unfamiliar territory, and how this very role can help us make sense of differences in neurophysiological data from novel versus familiar and small versus large environments. Similar computational principles could be at work when the hippocampus builds certain non-spatial representations, such as time intervals or trajectories defined in a sensory stimulus space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberjeb188912
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
StatePublished - Feb 2019



  • Boundary cell
  • Cognitive map
  • Grid cell
  • Limbic system
  • Place cell
  • Robot navigation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science

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