State transitions in the statistically stable place cell population are determined by rate of perceptual change

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The hippocampus plays a central role in mammalian navigation and memory, yet an implementational understanding of the rules that govern the granularity of location encoding and the spatial-statistics of the population as a whole are lacking. We analysed large numbers of CA1 place fields recorded while rats foraged in environments up to 8.75 m 2 . We found that place cell propensities to form fields were proportional to open-field area, gamma-distributed, and conserved across environments. The properties of place fields varied positionally with a denser distribution of smaller fields near boundaries. Remarkably, field size and density were in a dynamic equilibrium, such that population-level activity statistics remained constant. We showed that the rate of transition through the statistically stable place cell population matched the rate of change in the animals’ visual scenes - demonstrating that the resolution of the spatial-memory system is bounded by perceptual information afforded by the environment.

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