Whether you’re lost in a new city or driving the most familiar roads, both your hippocampus and your entorhinal cortex are hard at work. Together, these two brain regions create a powerful human navigation system, with diverse cells coordinating to perform different navigational functions, such as tracking the location, speed and direction of your movement. Discovering this navigational system was a huge feat in neuroscience, earning John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser a Nobel Prize in 2014.
But a growing body of research suggests these brain regions may play an even more expansive role in how the brain organizes experience. New findings from David Tank of Princeton University, who is director of the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain (SCGB), and others show that the cells of the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex can encode much more than physical space: They can also track sound and other factors. And Lisa Giocomo, a neuroscientist at Stanford University and an SCGB investigator, and her collaborators have shown that these cells seem to be capable of rapidly changing their coding properties to respond to a novel environment or task.