Our ability to navigate through the world depends on the function of the hippocampus. This old cortical structure plays a critical role in spatial navigation in mammals and in a variety of processes, including declarative and episodic memory and social behavior. Intense research has revealed much about hippocampal anatomy, physiology, and computation; yet, even intensely studied phenomena such as the shaping of place cell activity or the function of hippocampal firing patterns during sleep remain incompletely understood. Interestingly, while the hippocampus may be a ‘higher order' area linked to a complex cortical hierarchy in mammals, it is an old cortical structure in evolutionary terms. The reptilian cortex, structurally much simpler than the mammalian cortex and hippocampus, therefore presents a good alternative model for exploring hippocampal function. Here, we trace common patterns in the evolution of the hippocampus of reptiles and mammals and ask which parts can be profitably compared to understand functional principles. In addition, we describe a selection of the highly diverse repertoire of reptilian behaviors to illustrate the value of a comparative approach towards understanding hippocampal function.

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