Hippocampal place cells convey spatial information through a combination of spatially selective firing and theta phase precession. The way in which this information influences regions like the subiculum that receive input from the hippocampus remains unclear. The subiculum receives direct inputs from area CA1 of the hippocampus and sends divergent output projections to many other parts of the brain, so we examined the firing patterns of rat subicular neurons. We found a substantial transformation in the subicular code for space from sparse to dense firing rate representations along a proximal-distal anatomical gradient: neurons in the proximal subiculum are more similar to canonical, sparsely firing hippocampal place cells, whereas neurons in the distal subiculum have higher firing rates and more distributed spatial firing patterns. Using information theory, we found that the more distributed spatial representation in the subiculum carries, on average, more information about spatial location and context than the sparse spatial representation in CA1. Remarkably, despite the disparate firing rate properties of subicular neurons, we found that neurons at all proximal-distal locations exhibit robust theta phase precession, with similar spiking oscillation frequencies as neurons in area CA1. Our findings suggest that the subiculum is specialized to compress sparse hippocampal spatial codes into highly informative distributed codes suitable for efficient communication to other brain regions. Moreover, despite this substantial compression, the subiculum maintains finer scale temporal properties that may allow it to participate in oscillatory phase coding and spike timing-dependent plasticity in coordination with other regions of the hippocampal circuit.
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