Functionally distinct high and low theta oscillations in the human hippocampus

Abhinav Goyal, Jonathan Miller, Salman E. Qasim, Andrew J. Watrous, Honghui Zhang, Joel M. Stein, Cory S. Inman, Robert E. Gross, Jon T. Willie, Bradley Lega, Jui Jui Lin, Ashwini Sharan, Chengyuan Wu, Michael R. Sperling, Sameer A. Sheth, Guy M. McKhann, Elliot H. Smith, Catherine Schevon, Joshua Jacobs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Based on rodent models, researchers have theorized that the hippocampus supports episodic memory and navigation via the theta oscillation, a ~4–10 Hz rhythm that coordinates brain-wide neural activity. However, recordings from humans have indicated that hippocampal theta oscillations are lower in frequency and less prevalent than in rodents, suggesting interspecies differences in theta’s function. To characterize human hippocampal theta, we examine the properties of theta oscillations throughout the anterior–posterior length of the hippocampus as neurosurgical subjects performed a virtual spatial navigation task. During virtual movement, we observe hippocampal oscillations at multiple frequencies from 2 to 14 Hz. The posterior hippocampus prominently displays oscillations at ~8-Hz and the precise frequency of these oscillations correlates with the speed of movement, implicating these signals in spatial navigation. We also observe slower ~3 Hz oscillations, but these signals are more prevalent in the anterior hippocampus and their frequency does not vary with movement speed. Our results converge with recent findings to suggest an updated view of human hippocampal electrophysiology. Rather than one hippocampal theta oscillation with a single general role, high- and low-frequency theta oscillations, respectively, may reflect spatial and non-spatial cognitive processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2469
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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