Place cells in the hippocampus are thought to form a cognitive map of space and a memory of places. How this map forms when animals are exposed to novel environments has been the subject of a great deal of research. Numerous technical advances over the past decade greatly increased our understanding of the precise mechanisms underlying place field formation. In particular, it is now possible to connect cellular and circuit mechanisms of integration, firing, and plasticity discovered in brain slices, to processes taking place in vivo as animals learn and encode novel environments. Here, we focus on recent results and describe the dendritic mechanisms most likely responsible for the formation of place fields. We also discuss key open questions that are likely to be answered in the coming years.
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