Keywords: recurrent neural network, grid cell, neural representation of space
TL;DR: To our knowledge, this is the first study to show how neural representations of space, including grid-like cells and border cells as observed in the brain, could emerge from training a recurrent neural network to perform navigation tasks.
Abstract: Decades of research on the neural code underlying spatial navigation have revealed a diverse set of neural response properties. The Entorhinal Cortex (EC) of the mammalian brain contains a rich set of spatial correlates, including grid cells which encode space using tessellating patterns. However, the mechanisms and functional significance of these spatial representations remain largely mysterious. As a new way to understand these neural representations, we trained recurrent neural networks (RNNs) to perform navigation tasks in 2D arenas based on velocity inputs. Surprisingly, we find that grid-like spatial response patterns emerge in trained networks, along with units that exhibit other spatial correlates, including border cells and band-like cells. All these different functional types of neurons have been observed experimentally. The order of the emergence of grid-like and border cells is also consistent with observations from developmental studies. Together, our results suggest that grid cells, border cells and others as observed in EC may be a natural solution for representing space efficiently given the predominant recurrent connections in the neural circuits.