Monday, May 27, 2024

New Study Pinpoints Human ‘Neural Compass’ for Navigation

Researchers at the University of Birmingham and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich have identified a pattern of brain activity that serves as a “neural compass” in humans, aiding in spatial orientation and navigation, as published in Nature Human Behaviour.

In a breakthrough study, researchers have identified a pattern of brain activity, acting as a “neural compass,” crucial for human navigation. Comparable to neural codes observed in rodents, this discovery sheds light on how the human brain navigates space and environment. The research, published in Nature Human Behaviour, highlights finely tuned head direction signals in the brain, offering insights into conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, where navigation and orientation are often compromised.

Conducting experiments to measure neural activity in humans while in motion posed challenges, as existing technologies typically require participants to remain still. Overcoming this hurdle, researchers utilized mobile EEG devices and motion capture. Dr. Benjamin J. Griffiths, the study’s first author, emphasized the importance of accurate spatial orientation, stating, “Even small errors in estimating where you are and which direction you are heading in can be disastrous.”

The study involved 52 healthy participants engaged in motion-tracking experiments while their brain activity was recorded via scalp EEG. Additionally, signals from 10 participants undergoing intracranial electrode monitoring were monitored. Participants were prompted to move their heads or eyes, and brain signals from these movements were recorded using EEG caps and intracranial EEG (iEEG).

By isolating these signals, researchers were able to focus on how the brain processes navigational information, alongside other cues such as visual landmarks. Dr. Griffiths highlighted the broader implications of the study, including its potential impact on neurodegenerative disease research and the enhancement of navigational technologies in robotics and AI.

In future research, the team aims to explore how the brain navigates through time, investigating if similar neuronal activity is responsible for memory. This study opens new avenues for understanding human navigation and its underlying neural mechanisms.

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