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Structural and functional neural correlates of spatial navigation: A combined voxel‐based morphometry and functional connectivity study

Hao, X., Huang, Y., Li, X., Song, Y., Kong, X., Wang, X., Yang, Z., Zhen, Z., & Liu, J. (2016). Structural and functional neural correlates of spatial navigation: A combined voxel‐based morphometry and functional connectivity study. Brain and Behavior, 6(12): e00572. doi:10.1002/brb3.572.
Introduction: Navigation is a fundamental and multidimensional cognitive function that individuals rely on to move around the environment. In this study, we investigated the neural basis of human spatial navigation ability. Methods: A large cohort of participants (N > 200) was examined on their navigation ability behaviorally and structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) were then used to explore the corresponding neural basis of spatial navigation. Results: The gray matter volume (GMV) of the bilateral parahippocampus (PHG), retrosplenial complex (RSC), entorhinal cortex (EC), hippocampus (HPC), and thalamus (THAL) was correlated with the participants’ self-reported navigational ability in general, and their sense of direction in particular. Further fMRI studies showed that the PHG, RSC, and EC selectively responded to visually presented scenes, whereas the HPC and THAL showed no selectivity, suggesting a functional division of labor among these regions in spatial navigation. The resting-state functional connectivity analysis further revealed a hierarchical neural network for navigation constituted by these regions, which can be further categorized into three relatively independent components (i.e., scene recognition component, cognitive map component, and the component of heading direction for locomotion, respectively). Conclusions: Our study combined multi-modality imaging data to illustrate that multiple brain regions may work collaboratively to extract, integrate, store, and orientate spatial information to guide navigation behaviors.

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