Always have a sense of where you are, even in a strange setting? Scientists may have an explanation for why.
Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, Thomas Jefferson University, Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania fround that there's a brain cell, called the "grid cell," that enables us to keep track of where we are even in an unfamiliar place.
"Without grid cells, it is likely that humans would frequently get lost or have to navigate based only on landmarks," study researcher Dr. Joshua Jacobs, who is an assistant professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems at Drexel, said in a statement. "Grid cells are thus critical for maintaining a sense of location in an environment."
The findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, are based on brain recordings of 14 people as they participated in a video game that involved navigating from place to place to retrieve objects, and then having to remember how to get back to a place where an object was located. The researchers were able to get brain recordings from the participants, who all had epilepsy, because they were undergoing treatment that involved implantation of electrodes in their brains.
"The present finding of grid cells in the human brain, together with the earlier discovery of human hippocampal 'place cells,' which fire at single locations, provide compelling evidence for a common mapping and navigational system preserved across humans and lower animals," Dr. Michael Kahana, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.
Back in 2010, a study in the journal Science showed that baby rats also have an innate sense of direction, LiveScience reported. "The milestones that human infants go through are very much like the ones that young rats go through," the researcher of that study, Francesca Cacucci, of the University College London Institute of Behavioural Neuroscience, told LiveScience. "We can extrapolate to some extent and we can assume these cells are doing something in the human brain as well."