Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


A Grid in the Brain

How do we mentally calculate the distance between two places? Berlin scientists discover a grid-like network of nerve cells in the brain that could help with spatial orientation—similar to grid lines on city maps.

Animals and humans find their way through the world using an internally generated navigation system. In mammals, components of this navigational system are the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex.

A grid-like network of nerve cells in the brain (left, and top right) shows a similar hexagonal organization (right, bottom) to the mental map formed by the nerve cells in the brain. Science

These structures memorize and represent our environment in form of a cognitive map, which is a mental representation of space. The representation of space in the entorhinal cortex is particularly fascinating—here, nerve cells discharge in a grid like pattern across space when the animal is moving.

It is thought that this so-called grid cell activity works much like the grid lines on a map providing mammals with a metric for space. So far, it has been unclear how such grid patterns of activated nerve cells are anatomically formed in the brain.

Now, a research team headed by Leibniz prize winner Professor Michael Brecht from the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin, the Cluster of Excellence Neurocure, and the Bernstein Center Berlin has discovered a grid-like network of nerve cells in the entorhinal cortex. By using a protein that binds to calcium in selected nerve cells, the scientists visualized a small circuit of nerve cells. The dendrites of these neurons formed a hexagonal pattern in space that had a striking resemblance to the known grid patterns. Moreover, the neurons in this network showed the same characteristic activity rhythm as the grid cells, when the researchers measured the nerve cell activity in moving animals.

“People have known that the brain divides places into grids, much like we draw lines on a map. However, what was not known is what causes the brain to do it. What we have shown here is the existence of a circuit in the brain, which physically looks like the spatial activity pattern of the so-called grid cells. This makes us think that this circuit structure might be the underlying cause of this representation”, Brecht comments on the study that has been published in the renowned scientific journal Science this Thursday.

Hence, the discovery of the neural network might help us to understand how the brain generates grid lines on our mental maps and how we mentally measure distances. The scientists also hope to gain insight into how the brain forms spatial memories—a brain function which is disturbed or lost in many neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. On a more fundamental level, how the brain forms spatial memories may be related to how we form memories in general: as in the memory palaces of the ancient Greeks, objects could be linked with places to serve as a mnemonic device.

The Bernstein Center Berlin is part of the National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience in Germany. With this funding initiative, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has supported the new discipline of Computational Neuroscience since 2004 with over 170 million Euros. The network is named after the German physiologist Julius Bernstein (1835-1917).

Prof. Dr. Michael Brecht
Bernstein Center Berlin
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Philippstr. 13, House 6
10115 Berlin
Tel: +49 (0)30 2093 6718
Original publication:
S. Ray, R. Naumann, A. Burgalossi, Q. Tang, H. Schmidt & M. Brecht (2014): Grid-layout and Theta-modulation of Layer 2 Pyramidal Neurons in Medial Entorhinal Cortex. Science, Advanced Online Publication.

Weitere Informationen: Lab of Michael Brecht Bernstein Center Berlin Humboldt-Universität Berlin National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience

Mareike Kardinal | idw
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>