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On the nature of three-dimensional encoding in the cognitive map: Commentary on Hayman, Verriotis, Jovalekic, Fenton, and Jeffery



A recent article by Hayman, Verriotis, Jovalekic, Fenton, and Jeffery titled Anisotropic encoding of three-dimensional space by place cells and grid cells (2011) explored how place and grid cells respond when rats locomote vertically above the ground. From their results the authors concluded a number of points about rats' abilities to orient and navigate in three dimensions. Here, we review evidence revolving around several issues including: (1) what reference frame rats use when locomoting vertically, (2) whether rats can perceive their height above the ground, (3) whether rats can estimate vertical distance and have a cognitive map in the vertical domain, (4) whether rats can path integrate in the vertical domain, and (5) does processing 3-dimensional representations require a large number of neurons. We argue that the Hayman et al. results can be accounted for by considering the reference frame the animals used in the tasks. Had the rats been facing inward with their limbs in contact with the vertical surface when moving, it is possible that different patterns of place and grid cell activity would have been observed. Further, there is good evidence to indicate that rats can orient and navigate effectively in the vertical domain. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.