Recently, Noble Prize was announced for the research in Brain Global Positioning System. The Nobel laureate John O´Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser investigates with brain imaging techniques, as well as studies of patients undergoing neurosurgery.
The Scientists have provided evidence that place and grid cells exist also in humans. In patients with Alzheimer´s disease, the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex are frequently affected at an early stage, and these individuals often lose their way and cannot recognize the environment.
Knowledge about the brain´s positioning system may, therefore, help us understand the mechanism underpinning the devastating spatial memory loss that affects people with this disease.
The discovery of the brain’s positioning system represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of how ensembles of specialized cells work together to execute higher cognitive functions. It has opened new avenues for understanding other cognitive processes, such as memory, thinking and planning.
The discovery of cells in rats’ brains that function as a kind of built-in navigation system that is at the very heart of how animals know where they are, where they are going and where they have been. They called them grid cells.
Often, the workings of billions of neurons that produce our thoughts are opaque. But electrical recordings of signals emitted by grid cells show a map “with a framework and coordinates that are completely intuitive.
Implications of the discovery
The implications of the discovery are both practical and profound. The cells have been proved to exist in primates, and scientists think they will be found in all mammals, including humans.
It is now clear that the grid cells, in combination with cells that sense head direction and others that sense borders or boundaries — both originally identified in other parts of the brain by other labs — form a kind of dead-reckoning navigation system in the brain that maps movement.
Information flows from this part of the brain to the hippocampus, and then back. Exactly how the grid informs the place cells, and vice versa, is not known.
What scientists have now are two ends of a system with a black box in the middle that is not fully understood. At one end are place cells. At the other are grid cells. As to what exactly happens in between, and how the grid cells form in the first place.