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Study Finds How the Brain Remembers Movements

Update Date: May 03, 2013 12:50 PM EDT

Being able to remember how to get somewhere and return back home is a vital and innate human skill. Since humans do not have to actively remember the paths and routes they take everyday, researchers have looked into how the brain creates this almost automatic memory of one's movements. They have discovered how the brain manages to keep track of these movements and inform humans where they are. This skill, when lost due to neurodegenerative diseases that conflict with memory processes, can be dangerous and difficult. This new study looked into how the brain develops movement memory and found that the process is not limited to just visual cues.

The researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) wanted to discover how neurons composed these geographical maps that unconsciously help people remember how to get to a certain location. They decided to create a virtual reality environment in order to be able to control and change certain cues. Cues that were not limited to vision-related markers were taken out. The experimenters used mouse models and measured their brain's activity in creating a virtual map measured through their neurons. The rats ran around a virtual reality in which they only relied on vision, and when these rats were compared to rats that took part in a real life maze, the experimenters found that the removal of other cues led to a significant decrease in the activation of these neurons.

The researchers, with senior author Mayank Mehta, concluded that neuron activity in mapping out the geography is greatly influenced by different sensory cues and not just visual ones alone. Different sensory cues can include the smells of a particular restaurant, the sound of a nearby train station, or even the feel of the floor surface against the feet. Although previous research has noted the importance of other sensory cues, it did not believe that these cues could be as large of a factor as visual cues. But the findings from this study reveal that these cues might all play a significant part in the brain's development of a virtual map.

The study was published in the journal, Science

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