Researchers have confirmed that humans have grid cells that work with place and direction cells in the brain to help keep us from getting lost.
An Aug. 5 study in Nature Neuroscience shows the first physical evidence that humans have "grid" cells, which are so named because neurons have a grid pattern. The cells work with other cells in the brain to help us remember our location and how far we have traveled.
The brain neurons have been confirmed in a few other species, including monkeys and rats. They form triangular formations that, working in tandem with "place" and "direction" cells, help the brain do "path integration" -- laying down navigation markers at every turn a person takes while traveling.
"Without grid cells, it is likely that humans would frequently get lost or have to navigate based only on landmarks. Grid cells are thus critical for maintaining a sense of location in an environment." Joshua Jacobs, study coauthor, Drexel University
Researchers had 14 patients play a video game where they rode a bicycle through open terrain while trying to remember and recall locations. Using the electrodes, researchers observed grid cells in action. The cells activated at certain times depending on where in the virtual game the patients were.
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