SAIL Room, 111 Levin Building (425 S. University Ave.)
Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania
Spatial Navigation in an Olfactocentric Landscape
Traditional models of spatial navigation are rooted in visual landscapes adorned with visual objects. By compiling an array of visual features into physical maps on a sheet of paper (or abstract maps on a sheet of neurons), a navigator can accurately plan and predict a journey through space. However, this visuocentric perspective diminishes the potential contributions of other sensory modalities to the navigation of physical spaces. In particular, many animals rely on olfactory cues to optimize approach and avoidance behaviors, and the functional properties of the olfactory system, as well as the natural statistics of odor sources, are ideally suited for navigation-based responses. In this presentation, I posit a world confined to olfactory stimuli, and show using a combination of psychophysical and functional MRI (fMRI) approaches that human subjects are capable of navigating through a two-dimensional space composed purely of odor cues. Moreover, we find that the strength of grid-like hexagonal representations in ventromedial prefrontal cortex and entorhinal cortex scales with navigation performance across subjects. These data reveal a novel mechanism by which the brain can organize arrays of odor information, and suggest that different sensory modalities utilize a common grid-like hexagonal architecture to support encoding of cognitive maps.
Lunch will be served.