2020 Brain Star Award Winner: Roberto Adamo Gulli

Roberto Adamo Gulli
Roberto Adamo Gulli

Dr. Roberto Adamo Gulli – McGill University

Scientific Publication

Roberto A. Gulli, Lyndon R. Duong, Benjamin W. Corrigan, Guillaume Doucet, Sylvain Williams, Stefano Fusi & Julio C. Martinez-Trujillo
Context-dependent representations of objects and space in the primate hippocampus during virtual navigation. Nature Neuroscience 23, 103–112 (2020) doi:10.1038/s41593-019-0548-3



Understanding how objects and space are represented in the brain using virtual reality and computational approaches


The brain region called the hippocampus has been shown to play an important role in both memory and spatial navigation. Attempts to reconcile these functions have led some groups to suggest the hippocampus’ main role is to act as the brain’s global positioning system (GPS), while others suggest that the fundamental role of the hippocampus is memory, with physical space as just one variable of memory encoding. The current consensus on hippocampal function is that specific populations of hippocampal neurons encode position in an environment, and this position encoding is modulated by various components of behavior and context. The encoding of space, time, objects and context in hippocampus represent an experience which forms the basis of memory.

In this work, Dr. Roberto Gulli and colleagues present a new approach that uses virtual reality to dissociate encoding of spatial navigation and associative memory in a population of hippocampal neurons recorded from navigating primates. By recording individual neurons while primates were performing various tasks in a virtual reality environment, they were able to tease out their response to various cues to better understand hippocampus function.  Instead of framing the primate hippocampus

as the brain’s global positioning system, their paradigm-changing results suggest it could act as a general processing system that is driven by a broad range of behaviorally relevant inputs. In such a

system, flexible representations could provide the basis for learning and storing relevant information unique to an experience across many dimensions in a context-dependent manner.

This study provides an entirely new line of evidence to suggest that dogmatic theories of hippocampal function (memory, space) contain less explanatory power than computationally inspired theories.

This article has quickly made a broad impact in the community. It has generated a very enthusiastic reception from a wide swath of neuroscientists studying a diverse array of model species, spanning mice to humans. Furthermore, it has generated considerable interest from computational neuroscientists developing models of hippocampal function across species. This publication has generated an attention score in the 97th% percentile of all research published in 2020, according to Altmetric.


Dr. Roberto Adamo Gulli

This paper represents a significant portion of Roberto Gulli’s PhD thesis from McGill University.

Dr. Gulli was the lead on all components of this project, including experimental design, virtual environment building, behavioural and electrophysiological data collection, data analysis, manuscript writing, editing, and correspondence with the editors and reviewers.