Keywords: [ Continuous attractor neural network ] [ hippocampus ] [ theoretical neuroscience ] [ theta phase coding ] [ feedback inhibition ]
Hippocampal place cells of freely moving rodents display an intriguing temporal organization in their responses known as `theta phase precession', in which individual neurons fire at progressively earlier phases in successive theta cycles as the animal traverses the place fields. Recent experimental studies found that in addition to phase precession, many place cells also exhibit accompanied phase procession, but the underlying neural mechanism remains unclear. Here, we propose a neural circuit model to elucidate the generation of both kinds of phase shift in place cells' firing. Specifically, we consider a continuous attractor neural network (CANN) with feedback inhibition, which is inspired by the reciprocal interaction between the hippocampus and the medial septum. The feedback inhibition induces intrinsic mobility of the CANN which competes with the extrinsic mobility arising from the external drive. Their interplay generates an oscillatory tracking state, that is, the network bump state (resembling the decoded virtual position of the animal) sweeps back and forth around the external moving input (resembling the physical position of the animal). We show that this oscillatory tracking naturally explains the forward and backward sweeps of the decoded position during the animal's locomotion. At the single neuron level, the forward and backward sweeps account for, respectively, theta phase precession and procession. Furthermore, by tuning the feedback inhibition strength, we also explain the emergence of bimodal cells and unimodal cells, with the former having co-existed phase precession and procession, and the latter having only significant phase precession. We hope that this study facilitates our understanding of hippocampal temporal coding and lays foundation for unveiling their computational functions.