This study used virtual reality to test the brain's internal 'GPS'
LONDON, ONT. -- A new understanding of a complex part of the brain may hold the key for patients with neurological disorders.
It’s called the hippocampus, a part of the brain that in the scientific community is often referred to as our internal GPS.
“The hippocampus has cells like a GPS so you have one neuron in the hippocampus and every time you’re in one place of the room the neuron lights up and increases the activity and that’s how you know where you are,” explains Robarts Research Institute scientist Dr. Julio Martinez-Trujillo.
Martinez-Trujillo and his research team wanted to challenge the idea that this area of the brain only served as an internal GPS.
They did so by using a virtual reality type game to study specific activities in the brain.
“The virtual reality basically gives you the best of both worlds,” says Martinez-Trujillo. “You can navigate in a video game and you can at the same time perceive objects and remember the locations that you are or the things you are doing.”
By using virtual reality to study the hippocampus, the researchers discovered this important part of the brain is more than a navigation system.
The team concluded the hippocampus also plays a huge roll as a memory maker.
Researchers are going to take these findings and examine how it can help with other neurological conditions such as patients living with epilepsy.
Martinez-Trujillo says they also plan to look at the hippocampus and it’s role in memory, for possible new targeted treatments for Alzheimer’s patients.
“The next frontier for us is to target memory systems in humans, and we will be able to actually enhance memories, allocate the deficits that patients have, and I think the only way to do that is to understand the brain better.”
The full study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.