There is the compass in the brain

Researchers from the University of Michigan (USA) found special neurons in the brain that are responsible for orientation in space — the ability to understand how to move from one place to another. An article was published in the Cell Reports journal.

When a person has problems navigating a route and keeping it in their head, they may have problems due to damage to the retrosplenal cortex of the brain — this region is responsible for navigating the surrounding space. 

Studying the retrosplenal cortex of mice, a team of American scientists identified a special type of nerve cells — the so-called LR neurons (with low rheobase — the minimum force of the stimulus that causes the action potential), which all the time maintain a "sense of direction".

The authors note that only neurons that are directly responsible for sensations in space during movement were previously known. These cells are fired only when, for example, a person turns his head to orient himself in a direction.

LR neurons, on the other hand, are in firing state almost constantly, even if the head is stationary, and the signal from them comes at a high speed. In essence, they work like a compass that always shows where the North is, scientists say.

A computer model of how nerve cells in the retrosplenal cortex work, built by the researchers, also confirmed that LR neurons process direction information better than typical neurons 

Next, experts intend to study how the work of these neurons changes in patients with neurodegenerative diseases. It is known that people, for example, with Alzheimer's disease often have difficulties with building a route, disorientation in space. The researchers believe that the newly discovered neurons may be related to this. If the information is confirmed, they will start working on developing new treatments for neurodegeneration.

Feb. 6, 2020, 10:20 a.m.

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