How our brains track where we and others go

Washington [US], December 25 (ANI): As COVID cases increase, physical distancing from other people has never been more important. Now, new research from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) reveals how your brain navigates places and monitors someone else in the same location.

The findings, published Dec. 23 in the journal Nature, suggest that our brains generate a common code that indicates where other people are relative to ourselves.

“We studied how our brains react when we move through physical space – first alone and then with others,” said senior author Nanthia Suthana, chair of neurosurgery Ruth and Raymond Stotter and assistant professor of neurosurgery and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. and the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

“Our results imply that our brain creates a universal signature to put ourselves in someone’s shoes,” added Suthana, whose lab studies the way the brain forms and recalls memories.

Suthana and her colleagues observed patients with epilepsy whose brains had previously been surgically implanted with seizure control electrodes. The electrodes were located in the medial temporal lobe, a brain center connected to memory and suspected of regulating navigation, similar to a GPS device.

“Previous studies have shown that low-frequency brain waves by neurons in the medial temporal lobe help rodents track where they are as they move to a new location,” said first author Matthias Stangl, a postdoctoral scientist at Suthan’s lab. “We wanted to explore this idea in humans – and test if they could monitor others around them – but they were hampered by existing technology.” Using a $ 3.3 million BRAIN award from the National Institutes of Health, Suthana’s lab invented a special backpack containing a computer that connects wirelessly to the brain electrodes. This allowed her to study research subjects as they moved freely, instead of lying quietly in a brain scanner or connected to a recording device.

In this experiment, each patient carried a backpack and was instructed to explore an empty room, find a hidden place, and remember it for future searches. As they walked, the backpack recorded their brain waves, eye movements, and paths through the room in real time.

As participants searched the room, their brain waves flowed in a recognizable pattern, suggesting that each person’s brain drew walls and other boundaries. Interestingly, patients ’brain waves also flowed in a similar way when they sat in the corner of the room and watched someone else approach the site of the hidden spot.

The discovery implies that our brains produce the same pattern to keep track of where we and other people are in a shared environment.

Why is this important? “Everyday activities require us to constantly move around other people in the same place,” said Suthana, who is also an assistant professor of psychology at UCLA’s Faculty of Letters and Science and Bioengineering at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering. “Consider choosing the shortest airport security line, looking for space in a crowded parking lot, or avoiding bumping into someone on the dance floor.” In a secondary discovery, the UCLA team found that what we pay attention to can affect how our brains map out of location. For example, patients ’brain waves flowed harder when they searched for a hidden place — or witnessed another person approaching a location — than when they simply explored a room.

“Our results support the idea that in certain mental states, this pattern of brain waves can help us recognize boundaries,” Stangl said. “In this case, it was when people were focused on the goal and chasing something.” Future studies will explore how brain patterns people react in more complex social situations, including outside the lab. The UCLA team made the backpack available to other researchers to expedite discoveries about the brain and brain disorders.

Co-authors were Uroš Topalović, Cory Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra Aghajan, Dawn Eliashiv and Itzhak Fried, all from UCLA; Leonardo Christov-Moore of the USC; Nicholas Hasulak of NeuroPace Inc .; Vikram Rao of UCSF and Casey Halpern of Stanford University School of Medicine.

The study was supported by NIH Brain Initiative, McKnight Foundation and Keck Foundation. (ANI)