Exposure to complex environments results in more sparse representations of space in the hippocampus

David K. Bilkey, Kirsten R. Cheyne, Michael J. Eckert, Xiaodong Lu, Shoaib Chowdhury, Paul F. Worley, James E. Crandall, Wickliffe C. Abraham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The neural circuitry mediating sensory and motor representations is adaptively tuned by an animal's interaction with its environment. Similarly, higher order representations such as spatial memories can be modified by exposure to a complex environment (CE), but in this case the changes in brain circuitry that mediate the effect are less well understood. Here, we show that prolonged CE exposure was associated with increased selectivity of CA1 “place cells” to a particular recording arena compared to a social control (SC) group. Furthermore, fewer CA1 and DG neurons in the CE group expressed high levels of Arc protein, a marker of recent activation, following brief exposure to a completely novel environment. The reduced Arc expression was not attributable to overall changes in cell density or number. These data indicate that one effect of CE exposure is to modify high-level spatial representations in the brain by increasing the sparsity of population coding within networks of neurons. Greater sparsity could result in a more efficient and compact coding system that might alter behavioural performance on spatial tasks. The results from a behavioural experiment were consistent with this hypothesis, as CE-treated animals habituated more rapidly to a novel environment despite showing equivalent initial responding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1178-1191
Number of pages14
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • enriched environment
  • immediate early gene
  • place cell
  • sparsity
  • spatial representation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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