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The 30-Year Quest to Find the Brain's Transit Center


Stashed in: Brain, Maps!, Self-driving Cars, Alzheimer's

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Place cells in the hippocampus help animals (rats and humans alike) to remember features of maps and to distinguish between maps. Indeed, the hippocampus loads different maps, as it were, depending on a rat's location. Grid cells in the entorhinal cortex, on the other hand, help animals to navigate these maps. A rat can determine its relation to a location even in darkness thanks to this function.

So the structure of the brain prefigures our conception of space: interesting! And as the Nobel committee observed, these discoveries may help us to understand how and why cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and dementia affect our ability to navigate through the world.

The discoveries will also undergird our efforts to build computers and robots that can simulate mechanical calculations that we perform intuitively. Now, even as we are coming closer to self-driving cars that can navigate through the world, we have a basic understanding of how we do that ourselves.

So there are actual "place cells" in the brain whose job it is specifically to remember places?!

Whoa. I know some people with no navigational skill who are severely lacking those brain cells.

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