London, Jan 21 (ANI): Researchers have identified 'grid cells' that act like a spatial map in the human brain.
The study by UCL scientists may help to explain how we create internal maps of new environments.
Published in Nature, the study used brain imaging and virtual reality techniques to try to identify grid cells in the human brain.
These specialised neurons are thought to be involved in spatial memory and have previously been identified in rodent brains, but evidence of them in humans has not been documented until now.
Grid cells represent where an animal is located within its environment, which the researchers liken to having a satnav in the brain. They fire in patterns that show up as geometrically regular, triangular grids when plotted on a map of a navigated surface.
Study co-author Dr Caswell Barry said: "It is as if grid cells provide a cognitive map of space. In fact, these cells are very much like the longitude and latitude lines we're all familiar with on normal maps, but instead of using square grid lines it seems the brain uses triangles."
Lead author Dr Christian Doeller added: "Although we can't see the grid cells directly in the brain scanner, we can pick up the regular six-fold symmetry that is a signature of this type of firing pattern. Interestingly, the study participants with the clearest signs of grid cells were those who performed best in the virtual reality spatial memory task, suggesting that the grid cells help us to remember the locations of objects."
Professor Neil Burgess, who leads the team, commented: "The parts of the brain which show signs of grid cells - the hippocampal formation and associated brain areas - are already known to help us navigate our environment and are also critical for autobiographical memory. This means that grid cells may help us to find our way to the right memory as well as finding our way through our environment. These brain areas are also amongst the first to be affected by Alzheimer's disease which may explain why getting lost is one of the most common early symptoms of this disease." (ANI)