Computational theories on the function of theta oscillations.


Neural rhythms can be studied in terms of conditions for their generation, or in terms of their functional significance. The theta oscillation is a particularly prominent rhythm, reported to be present in many brain areas, and related to many important cognitive processes. The generating mechanisms of theta have extensively been studied and reviewed elsewhere; here we discuss ideas that have accumulated over the past decades on the computational roles it may subserve. Theories propose different aspects of theta oscillations as being relevant for their cognitive functions: limit cycle oscillations in neuronal firing rates, subthreshold membrane potential oscillations, periodic modulation of synaptic transmission and plasticity, and phase precession of hippocampal place cells. The relevant experimental data is briefly summarized in the light of these theories. Specific models proposing a function for theta in pattern recognition, memory, sequence learning and navigation are reviewed critically. Difficulties with testing and comparing alternative models are discussed, along with potentially important future research directions in the field.