Organization of hippocampal cell assemblies based on theta phase precession

Andrew P. Maurer, Stephen L. Cowen, Sara N. Burke, Carol A. Barnes, Bruce L. McNaughton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


The factors that control the spatial tuning of hippocampal neurons are incompletely understood, and there is no generally agreed upon definition of what constitutes a "place field". One factor that must be considered is the phenomenon of "phase precession". As a rat passes through the place field of a particular hippocampal neuron, its spikes shift to earlier phases of the theta rhythm. Except for the special cases discussed herein, the phase shift never exceeds 360°. Moreover, under conditions in which place field sizes change dynamically, precession rate is tightly coupled with the place field size, suggesting that a single cycle of theta phase precession could be used to define unitary place field boundaries. Theta phase precession implies that the "cell assembly" of active hippocampal neurons changes systematically over the course of a single theta cycle. A given cell can exhibit more than one place field in a given environment, each field showing the same pattern of 360° of phase precession. The existence of multiple fields implies that one cell can participate in multiple cell assemblies within the same environment. We show here that place fields, defined as a single cycle of phase precession, can overlap spatially, with the result that the cell fires with spikes clustered at two different phases over the theta cycles in which the fields overlap. Thus, the same neuron can participate in different cell assemblies within a single theta cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)785-794
Number of pages10
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2006


  • Attractor
  • Oscillation
  • Place cell
  • Rat
  • Theta rhythm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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