About this Research Topic
The ability to form and retrieve memories is essential for survival. We flexibly draw on memories of our experiences to avoid repeating mistakes and to plan for the future. Spatial navigation is a ubiquitous real-world scenario in which memories are leveraged to inform planning and guide our interactions with our environment. Decades of research have emphasized the importance of the medial temporal lobes for both spatial navigation and episodic memory. Striking representational properties of neurons within the medial temporal lobes—grid cells, place cells, and head direction cells—underscore the roles that this collection of structures can play in computing spatial metrics relevant to navigation, and in linking spatial and non-spatial content in flexibly accessible memory traces.
In recent years, increasing evidence suggests that structures outside of the medial temporal lobes contribute to spatial navigation in important ways, including additional spatial coding and computations relevant for long-term memory, decision-making, and executive function. For example, extant data suggest frontostriatal circuitry may serve to link memory information to reward and behavioral control mechanisms. This circuitry enables contextual information and knowledge about our environment to guide navigation and navigational decision-making. Similarly, large-scale frontoparietal functional networks support top-down attention (directing attention to goal-relevant information) and cognitive control (flexibly aligning cognitive and sensorimotor operations based on processing goals). Goal-directed attention and cognitive control processes have been shown to influence what information we encode and retrieve from memory, and in how much detail. These mechanisms may provide machinery through which mnemonic details are flexibly accessed and subsequently combined into formulating navigational route plans, as well as providing the ability to efficiently interact with our spatial environment in different contexts.
The emergent consensus from these literatures is that multiple neural systems dynamically interact to provide neural architecture that 1) supports dynamic encoding, maintenance, and updating of spatial information and 2) translates convergent spatial and non-spatial information codes into navigational memories and goal-directed behavior. Moving forward, it is essential that the field pursue mechanistic accounts of how such spatial codes emerge and interact across the brain, and of how these codes bias decision-making computations and contribute to planning navigational behaviors. The findings from such inquiries will serve to bridge theories of spatial navigation, episodic memory, and executive functions. Submissions addressing prefrontal, parietal, and striatal mechanisms that govern spatial remembering and behavior are encouraged. Network-level insights linking these mechanisms with those supported by the medial temporal lobes will be of great value. We welcome submissions detailing cognitive, neural, and behavioral models that bear on how both long-term and short-term memory mechanisms and executive functions interact to support navigation. As such, we encourage relevant contributions to this interdisciplinary research topic from all members of the neuroscience and psychology community.
Keywords: decision making, working memory, goals and planning, prefrontal cortex, striatum