Grid cell spatial tuning reduced following systemic muscarinic receptor blockade

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Grid cells of the medial entorhinal cortex exhibit a periodic and stable pattern of spatial tuning that may reflect the output of a path integration system. This grid pattern has been hypothesized to serve as a spatial coordinate system for navigation and memory function. The mechanisms underlying the generation of this characteristic tuning pattern remain poorly understood. Systemic administration of the muscarinic antagonist scopolamine flattens the typically positive correlation between running speed and entorhinal theta frequency in rats. The loss of this neural correlate of velocity, an important signal for the calculation of path integration, raises the question of what influence scopolamine has on the grid cell tuning as a read out of the path integration system. To test this, the spatial tuning properties of grid cells were compared before and after systemic administration of scopolamine as rats completed laps on a circle track for food rewards. The results show that the spatial tuning of the grid cells was reduced following scopolamine administration. The tuning of head direction cells, in contrast, was not reduced by scopolamine. This is the first report to demonstrate a link between cholinergic function and grid cell tuning. This work suggests that the loss of tuning in the grid cell network may underlie the navigational disorientation observed in Alzheimer's patients and elderly individuals with reduced cholinergic tone.

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