New research with computer modeling suggests electrical signals in specific parts of the brain are linked to spatial awareness.
Historically, scientists have been unsure of the role of brain rhythms in coding spatial information.
Investigators at the University of Edinburgh said their research helps explain how, if we know a room, we can go into it with our eyes shut and find our way around.
This capability is closely related to the way we map out how to get from one place to another.
In the study, scientists found that brain cells, which code location through increases in electrical activity, do not do so by communicating directly with each other. Instead, they can only send each other signals through cells that are known to reduce electrical activity.
This was an unexpected finding as cells that reduce electrical signaling are often thought to simply suppress brain activity.
Investigators also looked at electrical rhythms, or waves of brain activity, as previous studies have found that spatial awareness is linked to not only the number and strength of electrical signals but also where on the electrical wave they occur.
Their findings show that the indirect communication between nerve cells that are involved in spatial awareness also helps to explain how these electrical waves are generated.
This too was a surprise because its suggests that the same cellular mechanisms allow the brain to work out location and generate rhythmic waves of activity.
Since spatial awareness and the brain’s electrical rhythms are known to be affected in conditions such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease, researchers believe the findings may one day aid in the treatment of such disorders.
The study is published in the journal Neuron.
Source: University of Edinburgh