How They Know Where They're Going: New Research On Cabbies Shows That The Brain's Right Hippocampus Is Key For Navigation

September 16, 1997

WASHINGTON, D.C. September 16 -- Immediate left on Puddledock, right on Queen Victoria Street, left on Friday Street. New research for the first time shows through systematic brain imaging tests on London taxi drivers that a human's ability to remember the route to a destination requires the right hippocampus of the brain.

"This research shows that the hippocampus in humans houses the mental maps that we use to find our way around," says the study's lead author, Eleanor Maguire, of London's Institute of Neurology. "The discovery helps to open up the study of human navigation and suggests that different brain networks support different types of memory."

Maguire's study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, is published in the September 15th issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

"While it has been known for some time that the hippocampus is involved in spatial cognition in animals, Maguire's work is very important because it suggests this also may be true for humans," says Patricia Sharp, a learning and memory expert at Yale University.

In the study, the researchers analyzed spatial navigation by imaging the brains of 11 taxi drivers with positron emission tomography (PET). London taxi drivers have to train for several years and undergo strict testing before they can gain a license to work. "Therefore, they were the ideal people to study in order to ascertain the brain regions that are involved in the use of a well-developed mental map of a large city," says Maguire.

The PET images, which highlight neural activity by measuring changes in brain blood flow, indicated that the right hippocampus was activated significantly when the taxi drivers recalled complex routes, but not during other types of complex memory recall. For example, it was not activated when the drivers were asked to recall the plots of familiar, famous films -- a test that also requires the recall of information involving a sequence of events. The brain areas activated during the film recall test were located in the left frontal lobe. "The results show that the right hippocampus is not merely activated in all types of complex memory recall, but is specially recruited for route recall," says Maguire.

The research also investigates the role of the right hippocampus in navigation. "A network of brain regions may support the construction of a mental map of space, but only the right hippocampus is specifically involved in relating the elements of a route together in an overall framework for navigation," says Maguire. For example, the scientists found that when taxi drivers remembered information about individual world-famous landmarks such as New York's Statue of Liberty, the activated brain regions included the occipitotemporal regions, posterior cingulate gyrus, medial parietal area and parahippocampal gyrus. The route memory test also triggered activation in these brain areas. The right hippocampus, however, was activated only during the route memory test.

In future studies, the researchers plan to investigate further the specific operations that the right hippocampus performs during navigation.

Maguire's co-authors, Richard Frackowiak and Christopher Frith are also from the Institute of Neurology. Maguire and Frackowiak are members of the Society for Neuroscience, an organization of more than 27,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system.
-end-


Society for Neuroscience

Related Memory Articles from Brightsurf:

Memory of the Venus flytrap
In a study to be published in Nature Plants, a graduate student Mr.

Memory protein
When UC Santa Barbara materials scientist Omar Saleh and graduate student Ian Morgan sought to understand the mechanical behaviors of disordered proteins in the lab, they expected that after being stretched, one particular model protein would snap back instantaneously, like a rubber band.

Previously claimed memory boosting font 'Sans Forgetica' does not actually boost memory
It was previously claimed that the font Sans Forgetica could enhance people's memory for information, however researchers from the University of Warwick and the University of Waikato, New Zealand, have found after carrying out numerous experiments that the font does not enhance memory.

Memory boost with just one look
HRL Laboratories, LLC, researchers have published results showing that targeted transcranial electrical stimulation during slow-wave sleep can improve metamemories of specific episodes by 20% after only one viewing of the episode, compared to controls.

VR is not suited to visual memory?!
Toyohashi university of technology researcher and a research team at Tokyo Denki University have found that virtual reality (VR) may interfere with visual memory.

The genetic signature of memory
Despite their importance in memory, the human cortex and subcortex display a distinct collection of 'gene signatures.' The work recently published in eNeuro increases our understanding of how the brain creates memories and identifies potential genes for further investigation.

How long does memory last? For shape memory alloys, the longer the better
Scientists captured live action details of the phase transitions of shape memory alloys, giving them a better idea how to improve their properties for applications.

A NEAT discovery about memory
UAB researchers say over expression of NEAT1, an noncoding RNA, appears to diminish the ability of older brains to form memories.

Molecular memory can be used to increase the memory capacity of hard disks
Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä have taken part in an international British-Finnish-Chinese collaboration where the first molecule capable of remembering the direction of a magnetic above liquid nitrogen temperatures has been prepared and characterized.

Memory transferred between snails
Memories can be transferred between organisms by extracting ribonucleic acid (RNA) from a trained animal and injecting it into an untrained animal, as demonstrated in a study of sea snails published in eNeuro.

Read More: Memory News and Memory Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.