BMI Distinguished Seminar // Nelson Spruston; Learning produces a hippocampal cognitive map in the form of an orthogonalized state machine


Event details

Date 06.03.2024
Hour 16:0017:00
Speaker Nelson Spruston, Janelia, Ashburn, USA
Location Online
Category Conferences - Seminars
Event Language English
Exceptionally at 16:00

Cognitive maps confer animals with flexible intelligence by representing spatial, temporal, and abstract relationships that can be used to shape thought, planning, and behavior. Cognitive maps have been observed in the hippocampus, but their algorithmic form and the processes by which they are learned remain obscure. Here, we employed large-scale, longitudinal two-photon calcium imaging to record activity from thousands of neurons in the CA1 region of the hippocampus while mice learned to efficiently collect rewards from two subtly different versions of linear tracks in virtual reality. The results provide a detailed view of the formation of a cognitive map in the hippocampus. Throughout learning, both the animal behavior and hippocampal neural activity progressed through multiple intermediate stages, gradually revealing improved task representation that mirrored improved behavioral efficiency. The learning process led to progressive decorrelations in initially similar hippocampal neural activity within and across tracks, ultimately resulting in orthogonalized representations resembling a state machine capturing the inherent structure of the task. We show that a Hidden Markov Model (HMM) and a biologically plausible recurrent neural network trained using Hebbian learning can both capture core aspects of the learning dynamics and the orthogonalized representational structure in neural activity. In contrast, we show that gradient-based learning of sequence models such as Long Short-Term Memory networks (LSTMs) and Transformers do not naturally produce such orthogonalized representations. We further demonstrate that mice exhibited adaptive behavior in novel task settings, with neural activity reflecting flexible deployment of the state machine. These findings shed light on the mathematical form of cognitive maps, the learning rules that sculpt them, and the algorithms that promote adaptive behavior in animals. The work thus charts a course toward a deeper understanding of biological intelligence and offers insights toward developing more robust learning algorithms in artificial intelligence.


Practical information

  • Informed public
  • Free


  • BMI Host: J. Priestley