July 10, 2015

Researchers ID ‘Conjunction Junction’ for Brain’s Navigation Function

The retrosplenial cortex, seen here in the rat brain, appears to be vital
in helping an animal successfully navigate the world.

Cell study shows retrosplenial cortex is critical interface for mental mapping and way-finding

(July 10, 2015)  Ever wake at night needing a drink of water and then find your way to the kitchen in the dark without stubbing your toe? Researchers at the University of California, San Diego say they have identified a region of the brain that enables you to do that – and generally helps you navigate the world.

Douglas Nitz, associate professor of cognitive science in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences, and graduate student Andrew Alexander worked with rats, aka “navigational geniuses,” recording the firing activity of neurons while the animals ran on a zigzag track in different locations, to show that the retrosplenial cortex appears to be critical in putting together all the information necessary for successfully getting from point A to point B. They describe their findings in a paper in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The world we and other animals navigate is complex and non-linear, quite unlike the way a proverbial crow flies. The authors say our ability to get around its numerous indirect points depends, at minimum, on mapping our position within the environment, knowing routes that take us between locations, and an awareness of the correct actions to initiate at any given time: turn right, turn left, go straight.

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