Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A Grid in the Brain

23.01.2014
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).

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Michael Brecht
Bernstein Center Berlin
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Philippstr. 13, House 6
10115 Berlin
Tel: +49 (0)30 2093 6718
Email: michael.brecht@bccn-berlin.de
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:

http://www.activetouch.de Lab of Michael Brecht
http://www.bccn-berlin.de Bernstein Center Berlin
http://www.hu-berlin.de Humboldt-Universität Berlin
http://wwww.nncn.de National Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience

Mareike Kardinal | idw
Further information:
http://wwww.nncn.de

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht World’s Largest Study on Allergic Rhinitis Reveals new Risk Genes
17.07.2018 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

nachricht Plant mothers talk to their embryos via the hormone auxin
17.07.2018 | Institute of Science and Technology Austria

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Behavior-influencing policies are critical for mass market success of low carbon vehicles

17.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Plant mothers talk to their embryos via the hormone auxin

17.07.2018 | Life Sciences

Subaru Telescope helps pinpoint origin of ultra-high energy neutrino

16.07.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>