In the experiments in which rats' grid cells were identified, the cells fired whenever the rats crossed lines on an invisible triangular grid.
"The surprising thing was that we could identify cells that behaved in the same way when the monkeys were simply moving their eyes," Buffalo says. "It suggests that primates don't have to actually visit a place to construct the same kind of mental map."
Another aspect of grid cells not previously seen with rodents is that the cells' responses change when monkeys are seeing an image for the second time. Specifically, the grid cells reduce their firing rate when a repeat image is seen. Moving from the posterior (rear) toward the anterior (front) of the entorhinal cortex, more neurons show memory responses.
"These results demonstrate that grid cells are involved in memory, not just mapping the visual field," Killian says.
Consistent with previous reports on grid cells in rats, Killian and Buffalo observed "theta-band" oscillations, where grid cells fire in a rhythmic way, from 3 to 12 times per second. Some scientists have proposed that theta oscillations are important for grid cell networks to be generated in development, and also for the brain to put together information from the grid cells. In the monkeys, populations of neurons exhibited theta oscillations that occurred in intermittent bouts, but these bouts did not appear to be critical for formation of the spatial representation.
Vision is thought to be a more prominent sense for primates (monkeys and humans) compared with rodents, for whom touch and smell are more important. While grid cells in rodents and primates were detected in different types of experiments, Buffalo says that it doesn't mean grid cells necessarily have a different nature in pri
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