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UCLA study shows that individual brain cells track where we are and how we move
Date:5/3/2013

the researchers had the rats six altogether run a real-world maze that was visually identical to the virtual-reality version but that included the additional "stuff" cues. Using micro-electrodes 10 times thinner than a human hair, the team measured the activity of some 3,000 space-mapping neurons in the rats' brains as they completed both mazes.

What they found intrigued them. The elimination of the "stuff" cues in the virtual-reality maze had a huge effect: Fully half of the neurons being recorded became inactive, despite the fact that the distal and gate cues were similar in the virtual and real worlds. The results, Mehta said, show that these other sensory cues, once thought to play only a minor role in activating the brain, actually have a major influence on place cells.

And while in the real world, place cells responded to fixed, absolute positions, spiking at those same positions each time rats passed them, regardless of the direction they were moving a finding consistent with previous experiments this was not the case in the virtual-reality maze.

"In the virtual world," Mehta said, "we found that the neurons almost never did that. Instead, the neurons spiked at the same relative distance in the two directions as the rat moved back and forth. In other words, going back to the front door-to-car analogy, in a virtual world, the cell that fires five steps away from the door when leaving your home would not fire five steps away from the door upon your return. Instead, it would fire five steps away from the car when leaving the car. Thus, these cells are keeping track of the relative distance traveled rather than absolute position. This gives us evidence for the individual place cell's ability to represent relative distances."

Mehta thinks this is because neuronal maps are generated by three different categories of stimuli distal cues, gait and "stuff" and that all are competing for control of neural activity. This
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Contact: Mark Wheeler
mwheeler@mednet.ucla.edu
310-794-2265
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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