Thus, in the presence of the only auditory cues, the tongue seemed to know where to expect the reward, but the legs did not. This finding, teased out for the first time, suggests that different areas of a brain can work together, or be at odds.
"This is a fundamental and fascinating new insight about two of the most basic behaviors: walking and eating," Mehta said. "The results could pave the way toward understanding the human brain mechanisms of learning, memory and reward consumption and treating such debilitating disorders as Alzheimer's disease or ADHD that diminish these abilities."
Mehta, a professor of neurophysics with joint appointments in the departments of neurology, physics and astronomy, is fascinated with how our brains make maps of space and how we navigate in that space. In a recent study, he and his colleagues discovered how individual brain cells compute how much distance the subjects traveled.
This time, they wanted to understand how the brain processes the various environmental cues available to it. At a fundamental level, Mehta said, all animals, including humans, must know where they are in the world and how to find food and water in that environment. Which way is up, which way down, what is the safest or fastest path to their destination?
"Look at any animal's behavior," he said, "and at a fundamental level, they learn to both anticipate and seek out certain rewards like food and water. But until now, these two worlds of reward anticipation and navigation have remained separate because scientists couldn't measure both at the same time when subjects are walking."
Navigation requires the animal to form a spatial map of its environment so it can walk from point to point. An anticipation o
|Contact: Mark Wheeler|
University of California - Los Angeles