A type of pyramidal neuron in the hippocampus that is activated when a rat (or human) enters a particular place in the environment, the so-called place field. As a group, place cells act as a cognitive representations of a specific place in space, resulting in a so called cognitive map. Place cells are critical for intact spatial memory.
That internal cells help animals localise themselves in space was discovered by John O’Keefe, and represented a conceptual leap forward for which he shared the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. In the accompanying illustration by an unnamed grad student, the coloured dots represent 8 different place cells recorded from the CA1 layer of a rat. As the rat ran through the elevated track, different cells fired, depending on the rat’s position.