Published in the Sept. 11 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Nature, the findings offer unique information about how human memory works and present new avenues of investigation for treatment of memory disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.
The research, which evaluated the responses of patients already attached to EEG monitors to determine the focus of epileptic seizures, also demonstrates how clinical patient settings offer unique opportunities to learn about the mind and body.
Researchers monitored signals from individual brain cells as patients played a computer game in which they explored a virtual town in a taxi. The players searched for passengers who appeared in random locations and delivered them to designated stores.
"Our findings provide the first glimpse at the visually based neural code used by humans to form spatial maps of their environment and navigate from location to location," said neurosurgeon Dr. Itzhak Fried, who is professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. "Damage to these groups of cells can cause people to lose their ability to negotiate their environment and remember new surroundings."
"The success of this project is also an important illustration of the value of clinical patient settings in learning about the mind and body," said Fried, who has pioneered methods for studying the cellular basis of human vision and memory. "The understanding gained from such studies may eventually help future patients with brain disorders affecting the brain memory systems."