New findings about brain's 'compass' offer clues about Alzheimer's

anding the damage done by Alzheimers disease is our best hope toward finding our way to treatments and prevention.

Like all doctors who treat patients with the disease, Duffy is full of stories about patients who scramble to find routines to make their way through the world despite the void left by the ongoing death of their brain cells.

One former patient would drive from her home to visit her husband in a nursing home every day. Shed get in the car, drive a couple of miles, then lose track of where she was so shed pull over, get out and walk around looking for a building or some other landmark to remind her of where she was. Then shed get back in the car, drive a couple more miles, lose track of where she was, and do the same thing, over and over again, until she reached her destination. She did this day after day.

This patient had lost her ability for dead reckoning, or what scientists call path integration the ability to figure out where you are based on the knowledge of where you started and how you moved. If your house is two blocks west of a grocery store and you leave your house and walk two blocks west, its the sense of dead reckoning that tells you to expect a grocery store when you arrive.

Its this ability that Froehler and Duffy discovered resides in the MST. Scientists have known for more than a decade that the MST governs the ability to understand self-movement where youre headed at that very moment. The team showed that the same brain region provides some overall context to help identify where in the world you are, much like a global positioning system does. In the example above, the MST not only tells you youre heading west at the moment, but it provides the context and knowledge for you to realize that a grocery store should appear two blocks away.

Theres a continuous interaction between where youve been, where youre going, and where you are. What weve done is peeked into that process, says Duffy. Path

Contact: Tom Rickey
University of Rochester Medical Center

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