Researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor have identified a previously unrecognized excitatory neuron in mouse brains. This neuron, they say, is key for navigation.

This finding, which now appears in the journal Cell Reports, may aid scientists’ understanding of how the part of the brain responsible for navigation — the retrosplenial cortex (RSC) — goes about navigating prolonged distances.

Navigation and neurology

Scientists know that the RSC is crucial for navigation. In fact, if a person’s RSC is damaged, not only can they experience memory loss, but their ability to navigate will also be severely reduced.

For example, a person with a damaged RSC may find it very difficult to navigate their usual route from work to home.

However, scientists are less clear on how the parts of this cortex interact so that a person can navigate successfully.

By identifying this previously unrecognized excitatory neuron, the researchers gained information on what this new neuron does, as well as what the other key neuron in the RSC does.

‘The Little Neuron That Could’

According to study co-author Ellen Brennan, who identified the LR neurons, “A simpler name for this small yet tenacious little neuron, as suggested by my classmate, would be ‘The Little Neuron That Could.'”

“It’s the perfect name because it highlights the persistence that makes them optimally suited to code continued direction. In comparison, the other typical excitatory neurons here are slow and stubborn.”

As lead study author Dr. Omar Ahmed explains: “Regular neurons in the cortex are good at encoding directional information only when you are moving your head, but what happens when your head is still? You still need to know what direction you are facing so that you can use this information to plan your route.

“You ideally need another kind of neuron — a neuron that can continuously encode your orientation over long durations even when your head is not moving.”

Read the full article at Medical News Today.