Grid Cells Help Our Brains Move Crowds

Grid cells not only help us navigate our way through a complex environment, but also help us analyze the movements of other people, scientists from the University of Vienna have shown for the first time. Their new study on Nature Communication it also suggests an explanation for the mechanism that may lead to confusion in dementia patients.

Whether you’re crossing a busy pedestrian zone or reaching for a goal in a team game, in both cases it’s important to consider not only your own movements but those of others. These movements and movements are made by brain cells that register our current position, where we came from, where we are going and where we are looking. Through their collective action, they create a “map” of our environment. A special type of these cells are the so-called network cells in the entorhinal cortex, a small area of ​​the brain in the middle of the temporal lobe. They act like a GPS for the brain, because they not only represent our position in space, but can also put it in relation to other points in the same place.

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Whether these grid cells are also involved in mapping other people’s movements was the question that scientists led by Isabella Wagner and Claus Lamm from the Department of Psychology at the University of Vienna addressed. it. For this purpose, the scientists tested the participants whether they were moving in a visual space, or watching the movements of another person while their brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). ).

They found that brain activity recorded while watching others was similar to grid cell activity. In addition, the team was able to show that this activity was part of a larger network of brain areas associated with movement patterns. Interestingly, however, it turned out that the good news was still following the path of others, this network was not so effective. “We interpret this as a large-scale activation of the network cells, which may make it unnecessary to connect with the large network of the brain,” Wagner explains.

Therefore, the results of the study suggest that grid cells belong to a large network of brain regions that, among other things, coordinate movement patterns. However, this network is particularly affected by aging processes, particularly dementia. Wagner explains: “The activity of the grid cells decreases with age and dementia. As a result, people are no longer able to find their way and the way they focus is impaired.” Some of the group’s research is now devoted to the question of whether grid cells are also involved in recognizing others – an area that often suffers from advanced dementia.

Reference: Wagner IC, Graichen LP, Todorova B, et al. Codes such as the Entorhinal grid and time-locked grid power follow other spacewalkers. Nat Common. 2023;14(1):231. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-35819-3

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