Neuroscientists have discovered a curious aspect of spatial memory. In our brain, individual neurons are responsible for the memories of “where it was”.
Researchers from several universities, including Columbia University in New York and Emory University in Atlanta, conducted an experiment among 19 patients who underwent brain surgery for epilepsy.
Patients moved along the track in a virtual reality (VR) environment and were asked to press a button when they encounter certain objects in their path.
In a subsequent assignment, participants were asked to walk the track again and note where the objects, now removed, were located.
Examining the medial temporal lobe, scientists discovered cells that were “spatially tuned” to a location, and then could reproduce location information if necessary.
“These neurons are like pins on your Google map that mark where the events took place,” says Salman E. Qasim, a biomedical engineer at Columbia University, “Individual neurons are activated to represent the location in the environment during navigation”
This discovery defines the potential mechanism for our ability to selectively evoke spatial experiences from the past and shows how these memories can affect the map of our brain.