The hippocampus is involved in spatial navigation and memory in rodents and humans. Anatomically, the hippocampus extends along a longitudinal axis that shows a combination of graded and specific interconnections with neocortical and subcortical brain areas. Functionally, place cells are found all along the longitudinal axis and exhibit gradients of properties including an increasing dorsal-to-ventral place field size. We propose a view of hippocampal function in which fine-dorsal to coarse-ventral overlapping representations collaborate to form a multi-level representation of spatial and episodic memory that is dominant during navigation in large and complex environments or when encoding complex memories. This view is supported by the fact that the effects of ventral hippocampal damage are generally only found in larger laboratory-scale environments, and by the finding that human virtual navigation studies associate ventral hippocampal involvement with increased environmental complexity. Other mechanisms such as the ability of place cells to exhibit multiple fields and their ability to scale their fields with changes in environment size may be utilized when forming large-scale cognitive maps. Coarse-grained ventral representations may overlap with and provide multi-modal global contexts to finer-grained intermediate and dorsal representations, a mechanism that may support mnemonic hierarchies of autobiographical memory in humans.
Part of the book: The Hippocampus