What can the hippocampal representation of environmental geometry tell us about Hebbian learning?
The importance of the hippocampus in spatial representation is well established. It is suggested that the rodent hippocampal network should provide an optimal substrate for the study of unsupervised Hebbian learning. We focus on the firing characteristics of hippocampal place cells in morphologically different environments. A hard-wired quantitative geometric model of individual place fields is reviewed and presented as the framework in which to understand the additional effects of synaptic plasticity. Existent models employing Hebbian learning are also reviewed. New information is presented regarding the dynamics of place field plasticity over short and long time scales in experiments using barriers and differently shaped walled environments. It is argued that aspects of the temporal dynamics of stability and plasticity in the hippocampal place cell representation both indicate modifications to, and inform the nature of, the synaptic plasticity in place cell models. Our results identify a potential neural basis for long-term incidental learning of environments and provide strong constraints for the way the unsupervised learning in cell assemblies envisaged by Hebb might occur within the hippocampus.
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