Imagine being able to recognize your car as your own but never being able to remember where you parked it.
Researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have induced this all-too-common human experience - or a close version of it - permanently in rats and from what is observed perhaps derive clues about why strokes and Alzheimer's disease can destroy a person's sense of direction.
The findings are published online in the current issue of Cell Reports.
Grid cells and other specialized nerve cells in the brain, known as "place cells," comprise the brain's inner GPS, the discovery of which earned British-American and Norwegian scientists this year's Nobel Prize for medicine.
In research that builds upon the Nobel Prize-winning science, UC San Diego scientists have developed a micro-surgical procedure that makes it possible to remove the area of the rat's brain that contains grid cells and show what happens to this hard-wired navigational system when these grid cells are wiped out.
One effect, not surprisingly, is that the rats become very poor at tasks requiring internal map-making skills, such as remembering the location of a resting platform in a water maze test.
"Their loss of spatial memory formation was not a surprise," said senior co-author Robert Clark, PhD, a professor of psychiatry. "It's what would be expected based on the physiological characteristics of that area of the brain," which is known as the entorhinal cortex and is the first brain region to break down in Alzheimer's disease.
But the rats retained a host of other memory and navigation-related skills that scientists had previously speculated would be destroyed without grid cells.
"The surprise is the discovery of the type of memory formation that was not disrupted by the removal of the grid cell area," Clark said.
Specifically, UC San Diego scientists were able to show that even without grid cells rats could still mark spatial changes in their environment. They could, for example, notice when an object in a familiar environment was moved a few inches and they could recognize objects, such as a coffee mug or flower vase, and remember later that they had seen these objects before.
Electrical recordings of signals transmitted from the hippocampus suggested that the animals had developed place cells - cells that are believed to convey a sense of location - and that these cells were firing when an animal passed through a familiar place.
"Their place cells were less precise and less stable, but they were present and active," said Clark, who is also a research scientist at Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System. "That was a surprise because we had removed the spatially modulated grid-cell input to these neurons."
The axons of grid cells project into the hippocampus and it has been assumed that without this relay of information from the entorhinal cortex to the hippocampus, place cells would be unable to develop. "This is not the case," he said.
"Our work shows a crisp division of labor within memory circuits of the brain," he said. "Removing the grid-cell network removes memory for places but leaves completely intact a whole host of other important memory abilities like recognition memory and memory of fearful events."
Co-authors include Jena Hales, Magdalene Schlesiger, Jill Leutgeb and Stefan Leutgeb, UC San Diego; and Larry Squire, Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System and UC San Diego
This work was supported, in part, by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (1R01NS086947-01), National Institute of Mental Health (MH24600 and MH020002-13) and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Scott LaFee | EurekAlert!
Transport of molecular motors into cilia
28.03.2017 | Aarhus University
Asian dust providing key nutrients for California's giant sequoias
28.03.2017 | University of California - Riverside
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
28.03.2017 | Life Sciences
28.03.2017 | Information Technology
28.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy