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The 'satellite navigation' in our brains
Date:9/11/2008

t of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex increased its activity the closer the taxi drivers came to their destination. However, it is still unclear how the brain knows which way we need to go to reach our destination, and it is this question which is the subject of Dr Spiers's ongoing research, also funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Inside the hippocampus and neighbouring brain areas scientists have identified three types of cells which, says Dr Spiers, make up the sat nav. These are called place cells, head direction cells and grid cells.

Place cells map out our location, lighting up to say 'you are here' when we pass a specific place. There are thought to be hundreds of thousands of place cells in the brain, each preferring a slightly different geographical place. Head direction cells act like a compass, telling us which way we are facing. Grid cells, discovered in 2005 by Professor Edvard Moser's group at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, tell us how far we have travelled using a grid-like pattern akin to how we use latitude and longitude for navigation.

"Over the millennia, humans have invented and utilised many different navigation tools such as maps, compasses and latitude and longitude," says Dr Spiers. "Nature is far ahead of us and seems to have developed these tools inside our heads for our survival."

In a further twist on the research, Professor Maguire and Dr Spiers studied a taxi driver whose hippocampus had been damaged by a viral infection, leading to amnesia. Whilst he was able to navigate using major or 'A' roads, he was no longer able to navigate through the winding, minor streets of the capital.


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Contact: Craig Brierley
c.brierley@wellcome.ac.uk
44-207-611-7329
Wellcome Trust
Source:Eurekalert

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