Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

    The theta oscillation is a neuroscience enigma. When a rat runs through an environment, large-amplitude theta oscillations (4–10 Hz) reliably appear in the hippocampus's electrical activity. The consistency of this pattern led to theta playing a central role in theories on the neural basis of mammalian spatial navigation and memory. However, in fact, hippocampal oscillations at 4–10 Hz are rare in humans and in some other species. This presents a challenge for theories proposing theta as an essential component of the mammalian brain, including models of place and grid cells. Here, I examine this issue by reviewing recent research on human hippocampal oscillations using direct brain recordings from neurosurgical patients. This work indicates that the human hippocampus does indeed exhibit rhythms that are functionally similar to theta oscillations found in rodents, but that these signals have a slower frequency of approximately 1–4 Hz. I argue that oscillatory models of navigation and memory derived from rodent data are relevant for humans, but that they should be modified to account for the slower frequency of the human theta rhythm.


    One contribution of 24 to a Theo Murphy Meeting Issue ‘Space in the brain: cells, circuits, codes and cognition’.