Scientists at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have recently discovered a whole ultramodern neuron that plays a key role in larger scale navigation. Scientists found this neuron in the perirhinal cortex, the neighbourhood cell as it deals with the ability to tell the difference between general areas of an environment.
The discovery is an important step towards understanding how the brain codes navigation behavior at larger scales. According to scientists, it could also open up new treatment strategies especially for people with Alzheimer’s.
In real, the cells work in conjunction with hippocampal place cells that provide more fine-grained assessments of location. For example, Every day billions of people across the planet successfully navigate their environments, when they try to reach home. The perirhinal cortex neurons deal with navigating through streets and neighborhoods and the hippocampal place cells situate it precisely. The hippocampal place cells are also responsible for increase or decrease in electrical activity depending on one’s location.
Scientists discovered this ultramodern neuron by monitoring the neural activity of four areas of a rat’s brain while they navigated a figure-eight maze that overlaps in the middle. During this, the activity of the hippocampal place cells depended on what area of the maze the rat was in, activity in the perirhinal cortex was more sustained. The level of electrical activity clearly rose and fell depending on the segment the rats were in and persisted throughout that entire segment.
Jeroen Bos, lead author said, “We found a pronounced difference between the responses in the perirhinal cortex and responses in other areas of the brain. Units from the perirhinal cortex had sustained responses throughout the whole loop. By contrast, responses from hippocampal place cells were scattered across the maze and their fields were much smaller than the loops of the maze.”
“We were surprised to see the perirhinal cortex’s responses align so closely with the layout of the maze, primarily because the region is commonly associated with object recognition. This seems to be a new type of neuron, which we have informally dubbed the ‘neighbourhood cell’. This neuron seems to enable the brain to specifically differentiate between distinct segments of the environment.”