Interacting networks of brain regions underlie human spatial navigation: A review and novel synthesis of the literature

Arne D. Ekstrom, Derek J. Huffman, Michael Starrett

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Navigation is an inherently dynamic and multimodal process, making isolation of the unique cognitive components underlying it challenging. The assumptions of much of the literature on human spatial navigation are that 1) spatial navigation involves modality independent, discrete metric representations (i.e., egocentric vs. allocentric), 2) such representations can be further distilled to elemental cognitive processes, and 3) these cognitive processes can be ascribed to unique brain regions. We argue that modality-independent spatial representations, instead of providing exact metrics about our surrounding environment, more often involve heuristics for estimating spatial topology useful to the current task at hand. We also argue that egocentric (body centered) and allocentric (world centered) representations are better conceptualized as involving a continuum rather than as discrete. We propose a neural model to accommodate these ideas, arguing that such representations also involve a continuum of network interactions centered on retrosplenial and posterior parietal cortex, respectively. Our model thus helps explain both behavioral and neural findings otherwise difficult to account for with classic models of spatial navigation and memory, providing a testable framework for novel experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3328-3344
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Allocentric
  • Cognitive map
  • Egocentric
  • Episodic memory
  • Hippocampus
  • Humans
  • Path integration
  • Retrosplenial cortex
  • Spatial navigation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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