Mind

Found: The Brain's Own GPS

Navigational neurons called grid cells help us find our way in the world.

By Valerie RossJan 7, 2014 12:21 PM
brain-map.jpg
solarseven/Shutterstock

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
 

Somehow, we find our way in the world — but how we do it has remained a mystery. Nearly a decade ago, researchers discovered that rodents rely on navigational neurons called grid cells. As the animal moves, different subpopulations of these cells become active depending on distance and direction, creating an internal map of its trajectory. 

In 2013, neuroscientists finally found similar cells in humans.

Drexel University’s Joshua Jacobs and colleagues studied patients who were awaiting surgery for epilepsy. Each had dozens of electrodes implanted in the brain, to record the electrical activity of seizures. 

While the patient navigated through a virtual environment on a computer, the team tracked more than 800 neurons, finding two clusters that acted like rodent grid cells. This neural machinery may be involved in learning and memory, Jacobs says: “Understanding this network could help us understand, and maybe even prevent, spatial disorientation due to aging and dementia.”

[This article originally appeared in print as "Found: The Brain's Own GPS."]

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Magazine Examples
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!

Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Join
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

 
Subscribe
To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2021 Kalmbach Media Co.