Friday, November 13, 2015

Alzheimer’s Disease & Brain GPS Cells

The way you navigate a virtual maze may predict your chances of getting Alzheimer’s. A new study reported in Science finds that people at risk for Alzheimer’s have lower activity in a newly-discovered network of navigational brain cells known as “grid cells.” 

The 2014 Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine has been awarded to John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser, and Edvard Moser for their discovery of the brain’s “inner GPS” system.  The neurons that make up the “grid” are arranged in a triangular lattice in the entorhinal cortex—a region of the brain used in memory and navigation. The “grid” activates in different patterns based on how individuals move, keeping track of our location in the coordinate plane.

Researchers think the cells help make mental maps and allow us to navigate without visual cues. “If you close your eyes and walk ten feet forward and turn right and walk three feet forward, the grid cells are believed to [track your position],” says neuroscientist Joshua Jacobs at Columbia University.

The results are a starting point in figuring out navigation issues in Alzheimer’s patients, but definitely offer a great new avenue of study. 

I wonder if you close your eyes and practice walking around the house if you can sharpen your navigational brain cells? Go science!

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