Detecting location-specific neuronal firing rate increases in the hippocampus of freely-moving monkeys.
The spatial properties of the firing of hippocampal neurons have mainly been studied in (a) freely moving rodents, (b) non-human primates seated in a moveable primate chair with head fixed, and (c) epileptic patients subjected to virtual navigation. Although these studies have all revealed the ability of hippocampal neurons to generate spatially selective discharges, the detected firing patterns have been found to be considerably different, even conflicting, in many respects. The present cellular electrophysiological study employed squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus), which moved freely on the walls and floor of a large test chamber. This permitted the examination of the spatial firing of hippocampal neurons in nearly ideal conditions, similar to those used in rodents, yet in a species that belongs to the primate Suborder Anthropoidea. The major findings were that: (1) a group of slow-firing complex-spike cells increased their basal, awake firing rate more than 20-fold, often above 30 spikes/s, when the monkey was in a particular location in the chamber, (2) these location-specific discharges occurred consistently, forming 4-25 s action potential volleys, and (3) fast-firing cells displayed no such electrical activity. Thus, during free movement in three dimensions, primate hippocampal complex-spike cells do generate high-frequency, location-specific action potential volleys. Since these cells are components of the medial temporal lobe memory system, their uncovered firing pattern may well be involved in the formation of declarative memories on places.