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Scientists Discover Part of Brain that Helps Navigate Familiar Places

Scientists have taken approach in finding the root cause of brain damage in Alzheimer’s disease. During the research, UCL scientists have discovered the key brain region in humans responsible for navigating well-known places. This helped them understand about severe disorientation in early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The study in Cerebral Cortex was the first-of-its-kind to identify the specific brain regions used in navigating familiar places.

Researchers have observed a specific brain region – hippocampus – mainly involved in new learning. Therefore, this brain region helped in tracking distance in a ‘newly learned’ environment. However, during navigating a familiar place, the brain region – retrosplenial cortex discovered to take charge in tracking the distance.

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Professor Hugo Spiers, UCL stated that the findings were significant as they revealed the distinct functions of different brain regions. The specific brain regions activated accordingly depending on well-known place or recently visited place. Such findings helped the researchers to understand why the retrosplenial cortex’s damage was so debilitating among Alzheimer’s patients. Moreover, the researchers have found out the reason for Alzheimer’s patients getting lost even in familiar environments.

To carry out experiments on this, the research team worked with students from Imperial College London and UCL. In this experiment, the researchers monitored students’ brain activity as they navigated to their own campus and other university campuses. The researchers also used Sat-Navs that helped students in navigating campuses with given directions.

Strikingly, the researchers found that neither the retrosplenial cortex nor hippocampus could track distance while using Sat-Nav device. This outcome was a proof enough to understand brain’s engagement in processing the space using the memory. Dr. Zita Patai from UCL added that such discovery had significant implications on the ongoing research about Alzheimer’s.

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