Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Right time, right place


To orient ourselves in space, our brain generates an internal coordinate system. Heidelberg researchers now refute the current model on how nerve cells generate this mental map.

The food pellet must be further away—a mouse is foraging for food. To estimate distances and to orient itself in space, the brain forms an internal spatial map. So-called grid neurons take on an important role in this process. They fire when the mouse happens to be at decisive positions.

Grid neurons are essential for space orientation. They fire when the mouse happens to be at decisive positions. Seen from above, the activity pattern of a cell forms a hexagonal pattern in space.

Christina Buetfering, 2014

From a bird's perspective, the activity pattern of a grid cell forms a hexagonal pattern in space—very reminiscent of a coordinate system on a map (see figure). But how is this abstract activity pattern generated that is not based on sensory input from the environment?

To find answers, researchers investigated neuronal connections by means of theoretical models. The currently most promising model is now refuted by scientists from the Bernstein Center Heidelberg/Mannheim and the Department of Clinical Neurobiology at the Medical Faculty of Heidelberg University and The German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), who put the model to test in animal experiments.

"In our study, we measured the nerve cell activity in freely moving mice," explains Christina Buetfering, first author of the study. "We were interested in grid cells as well as nerve cells that interconnect the grid cells: so-called interneurons".

The crucial trick: the activity of interneurons could be selectively switched on and off by light signals in genetically modified mice. While the mice moved around during foraging, the researchers activated the cells now and then. This helped them to identify and closely observe the interneurons in the measured data stream. Also, they were able to analyze how grid cells responded to the activity of interneurons—giving a hint on how the neurons must be connected.

The scientists discovered that interneurons show no spatial activity patterns like grid cells do. In addition, individual interneurons are not exclusively connected to grid cells with similar activity patterns. Instead, they get their input signals from very different grid cells and send their output information to diverse nerve cells.

"With these results we were able to refute two basic predictions of the current theoretical network model," Buetfering discusses. "The model assumes that for generating the inner mental map, grid cells of the same spatial orientation must be very closely connected—which was thought to be realized via spatially active interneurons."

However, interneurons seem to have a different main task. The cells send inhibitory signals to quite different neurons in their environment. Therefore, they possibly rather take over a modulating function by ensuring a balance between excitation and inhibition in the brain area during excessive nerve cell activity.

In this way they could prevent epileptic seizures. How grid cells manage to fire at the right time at the right place—thereby generating the abstract mental coordinate system—has, once again, become more mysterious.

The Bernstein Center Heidelberg/Mannheim 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 180 million Euros. The network is named after the German physiologist Julius Bernstein (1835-1917).

Prof. Dr. Hannah Monyer
Clinical Neurobiology (A230)
German Cancer Research Center
Im Neuenheimer Feld 280
69120 Heidelberg
Tel: +49 (0)6221 42 3100

Original publication:
C. Buetfering, K. Allen & H. Monyer (2014): Parvalbumin interneurons provide grid cell-driven recurrent inhibition in the medial entorhinal cortex. Nature Neuroscience, advanced online publication
doi: 10.1038/nn.3696

Weitere Informationen: Lab Hannah Monyer Heidelberg University Heidelberg University Hospital German Cancer Research Center Bernstein Center Heidelberg/Mannheim National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience

Mareike Kardinal | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Further reports about: Bernstein Cancer Computational Neurobiology Neuroscience activity crucial foraging neurons spatial

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht When fat cells change their colour
28.10.2016 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Aquaculture: Clear Water Thanks to Cork
28.10.2016 | Technologie Lizenz-Büro (TLB) der Baden-Württembergischen Hochschulen GmbH

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

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...

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

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>