Nav: Home

Researcher sheds new light on how brain operates like GPS

September 13, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Every time you walk out of a building, you immediately see where you're at and then step toward a destination. Whether you turn left, right or go straight ahead, you don't even think about it. Simple, right?

Not exactly. The brain performs a complex calculation that works a lot like the Global Positioning System.

Florida State University's Aaron Wilber, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience, has discovered new insights into how the brain is organized to help a person navigate through life. His findings were published today in the September issue of the journal Neuron.

"We have not had a clear understanding of what happens when you step out of a subway tunnel, take in your surroundings and have that moment where you instantly know where you are," Wilber said. "Now we're getting closer to understanding that."

Wilber wanted to get a clearer picture of how a person makes the transition from seeing a scene and then translating the image into a plan for navigation.

The parietal cortex is the part of the brain that helps make that happen. It integrates information coming in from various senses and helps a person understand what action to take as a result. The response gets recorded as a memory with help from other parts of the brain, creating a "map" of the location that a person can recall to help get around from place to place.

Then in the future a person can link that same view, or even just a part of it, to the brain's map and know what action to take.

Wilber discovered how the parietal cortex allows us to perform the appropriate action for a particular location.

Lots of single cells in that region take in streams of sensory information to help a person get oriented, but those individual cells also cluster together in larger modules that work together. Those modules in the parietal cortex generate a physical response and, at the same time, are able to reconfigure themselves as a person learns and makes memories.

"These different modules are talking to each other and seem to be changing their connections just like single cells change their connections," Wilber said. "But now we're talking about large groups of cells becoming wired up in different ways as you learn and remember how to make a series of actions as you go about your day-to-day business."

Wilber's team was able to make recordings of various areas in a rat's brain and found certain regions showed distinct patterns of activity, and those areas were associated with a particular action. Researchers converted those patterns of activity into graphical illustrations, which offered a visual model of brain activity patterns.

The team then documented an identical sequence of patterns in certain areas of the brain every time the animal performed a series of actions. In fact, the illustrations were so accurate, researchers could identify the animal's specific behavior just by looking at the brain activity patterns without ever seeing the actual physical action.

Wilber continued making recordings when the rat slept and, based on the graphical waveforms, discovered the animal actually replayed the same actions in the brain during dreaming. But the dream sequence played out in fast forward at a rate about four times faster than real-life speed.

"We think these fast-forward 'dreams' we observe in rats could explain why in humans when you dream and wake up, you think a lot more time passed than actually has because your dreams happen at high speed or fast forward," Wilber said. "Maybe dreams happen in fast forward because that would make it easier to create new connections in your brain as you sleep."

As those new connections form, Wilber said, then the next time you go to the store you remember how to get there because your brain has linked your previous actions with certain places, such as turning right at a certain intersection.

Wilber ultimately wants to understand how that process breaks down in people with Alzheimer's disease or other neurological disorders. He recently received funding from the National Institutes of Health to pursue this research.
-end-


Florida State University

Related Brain Articles:

Study describes changes to structural brain networks after radiotherapy for brain tumors
Researchers compared the thickness of brain cortex in patients with brain tumors before and after radiation therapy was applied and found significant dose-dependent changes in the structural properties of cortical neural networks, at both the local and global level.
Blue Brain team discovers a multi-dimensional universe in brain networks
Using a sophisticated type of mathematics in a way that it has never been used before in neuroscience, a team from the Blue Brain Project has uncovered a universe of multi-dimensional geometrical structures and spaces within the networks of the brain.
New brain mapping tool produces higher resolution data during brain surgery
Researchers have developed a new device to map the brain during surgery and distinguish between healthy and diseased tissues.
Newborn baby brain scans will help scientists track brain development
Scientists have today published ground-breaking scans of newborn babies' brains which researchers from all over the world can download and use to study how the human brain develops.
New test may quickly identify mild traumatic brain injury with underlying brain damage
A new test using peripheral vision reaction time could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment of mild traumatic brain injury, often referred to as a concussion.
This is your brain on God: Spiritual experiences activate brain reward circuits
Religious and spiritual experiences activate the brain reward circuits in much the same way as love, sex, gambling, drugs and music, report researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Brain scientists at TU Dresden examine brain networks during short-term task learning
'Practice makes perfect' is a common saying. We all have experienced that the initially effortful implementation of novel tasks is becoming rapidly easier and more fluent after only a few repetitions.
Balancing time & space in the brain: New model holds promise for predicting brain dynamics
A team of scientists has extended the balanced network model to provide deep and testable predictions linking brain circuits to brain activity.
New view of brain development: Striking differences between adult and newborn mouse brain
Spikes in neuronal activity in young mice do not spur corresponding boosts in blood flow -- a discovery that stands in stark contrast to the adult mouse brain.
Map of teenage brain provides evidence of link between antisocial behavior and brain development
The brains of teenagers with serious antisocial behavior problems differ significantly in structure to those of their peers, providing the clearest evidence to date that their behavior stems from changes in brain development in early life, according to new research led by the University of Cambridge and the University of Southampton, in collaboration with the University of Rome Tor Vergata in Italy.

Related Brain Reading:

The Brain: The Story of You
by David Eagleman (Author)

Locked in the silence and darkness of your skull, your brain fashions the rich narratives of your reality and your identity. Join renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman for a journey into the questions at the mysterious heart of our existence. What is reality? Who are “you”? How do you make decisions? Why does your brain need other people? How is technology poised to change what it means to be human?  In the course of his investigations, Eagleman guides us through the world of extreme sports, criminal justice, facial expressions, genocide, brain surgery, gut feelings, robotics, and the... View Details


Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain–for Life
by David Perlmutter (Author), Kristin Loberg (Contributor)

The bestselling author of Grain Brain uncovers the powerful role of gut bacteria in determining your brain's destiny.

Debilitating brain disorders are on the rise-from children diagnosed with autism and ADHD to adults developing dementia at younger ages than ever before. But a medical revolution is underway that can solve this problem: Astonishing new research is revealing that the health of your brain is, to an extraordinary degree, dictated by the state of your microbiome - the vast population of organisms that live in your body and outnumber your own cells... View Details


Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers
by David Perlmutter (Author), Kristin Loberg (Contributor)

A #1 New York Times bestseller--the devastating truth about the effects of wheat, sugar, and carbs on the brain, with a 4-week plan to achieve optimum health.

Renowned neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, blows the lid off a topic that's been buried in medical literature for far too long: carbs are destroying your brain. And not just unhealthy carbs, but even healthy ones like whole grains can cause dementia, ADHD, anxiety, chronic headaches, depression, and much more. Dr. Perlmutter explains what happens when the brain encounters common... View Details


The Human Brain Coloring Book (Coloring Concepts Series)
by Marian C. Diamond (Author), Arnold B. Scheibel (Author)

Developed by internationally renowned neurosurgeons, this unique book is designed for students of psychology and the biological sciences, and medical, dental, and nursing students. View Details


The Brain: All about Our Nervous System and More!
by Seymour Simon (Author)

The human brain is behind everything you do. From taking your first step to creating the computer, this vital organ gives humans the ability to learn and adapt to an ever-changing world. Learn all about your amazing, versatile brain with award-winning science writer Seymour Simon.

View Details


The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal
by Larry W. Swanson (Author), Eric Newman (Author), Alfonso Araque (Author), Janet M. Dubinsky (Author)

At the crossroads of art and science, Beautiful Brain presents Nobel Laureate Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s contributions to neuroscience through his groundbreaking artistic brain imagery.
 
Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934) was the father of modern neuroscience and an exceptional artist. He devoted his life to the anatomy of the brain, the body’s most complex and mysterious organ. His superhuman feats of visualization, based on fanatically precise techniques and countless hours at the microscope, resulted in some of the most remarkable illustrations in the... View Details


The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science
by Norman Doidge (Author)

An astonishing new science called "neuroplasticity" is overthrowing the centuries-old notion that the human brain is immutable. In this revolutionary look at the brain, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge, M.D., provides an introduction to both the brilliant scientists championing neuroplasticity and the people whose lives they've transformed. From stroke patients learning to speak again to the remarkable case of a woman born with half a brain that rewired itself to work as a whole, The Brain That Changes Itself will permanently alter the way we look at our brains, human... View Details


My First Book About the Brain (Dover Children's Science Books)
by Patricia J. Wynne (Author), Donald M. Silver (Author)

Winner of a Bronze 2014 Moonbeam Children's Book Award!
Discover the workings of the body's most complex organ! How does the brain control the rest of the body? How does it enable the senses to function, regulate speech, affect balance, and influence sleep and dreams? These 25 illustrations to color explain every aspect of the brain's important jobs, from communicating with the central nervous system to retaining memories. Suitable for ages 8–12. View Details


Switch On Your Brain Workbook: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health
by Dr. Caroline Leaf (Author)

We all want to be more at peace, to be happier and healthier, but we often don't know how to go about it. Everything we try seems to fall short of true change. Dr. Caroline Leaf knows that we cannot change anything until we change our thinking. This follow-up to her bestselling book will help readers apply the science and wisdom of Switch On Your Brain to their daily lives so that they can detox their thinking and experience improved happiness and health.

Each of the keys in the Switch On Your Brain Workbook pairs science with Scripture, asking penetrating personal... View Details


The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity
by Norman Doidge (Author)

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

 The New York Times–bestselling author of The Brain That Changes Itself presents astounding advances in the treatment of brain injury and illness. Now in an updated and expanded paperback edition.

Winner of the 2015 Gold Nautilus Award in Science & Cosmology 

In his groundbreaking work The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge introduced readers to neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to change its own structure and function in response to activity and mental experience. Now his revolutionary... View Details

Best Science Podcasts 2017

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2017. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Simple Solutions
Sometimes, the best solutions to complex problems are simple. But simple doesn't always mean easy. This hour, TED speakers describe the innovation and hard work that goes into achieving simplicity. Guests include designer Mileha Soneji, chef Sam Kass, sleep researcher Wendy Troxel, public health advocate Myriam Sidibe, and engineer Amos Winter.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#448 Pavlov (Rebroadcast)
This week, we're learning about the life and work of a groundbreaking physiologist whose work on learning and instinct is familiar worldwide, and almost universally misunderstood. We'll spend the hour with Daniel Todes, Ph.D, Professor of History of Medicine at The Johns Hopkins University, discussing his book "Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science."