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Brain's map of space falls flat when it comes to altitude
Date:8/7/2011

f activity hot-spots. Previous work has found that grid cells are largely concerned with marking out distances.

In the study, rats walked not just on flat ground but also on pegs on a climbing wall, or else on a spiral staircase, so that the rats moved not only horizontally but also vertically. Interestingly, the grid cells still kept track of horizontal distance but did not measure out vertical distances. It seems as if grid cells do not "know" how high they are.

In the second part of the study scientists looked at another type of neurons known as place cells. Place cells, found in the hippocampus itself, produce single activity hotspots in the environment and seem to function to encode specific places. These neurons were only weakly sensitive to height too but they did show some responsiveness, suggesting they received information about height from some other, possibly non-specific, source.

Professor Jeffery said: "It looks like the brain's knowledge of height in space is not as detailed as its information about horizontal distance, which is very specific. It's perhaps akin to knowing that you are "very high" versus "a little bit high" rather than knowing exact height."


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Contact: Clare Ryan
clare.ryan@ucl.ac.uk
44-020-310-83846
University College London
Source:Eurekalert

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