In DepthNeuroscience

Expanding our mental maps

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Science  17 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6292, pp. 1378
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6292.1378

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As you navigate a landscape, certain neurons in the brain fire at multiple locations, marking out a hexagonal grid on a mental map. The discovery of these so-called grid cells, and their role as a neuronal GPS for spatial navigation, won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for Norwegian scientists Edvard Moser and May-Britt Moser. Now, it seems that the brain may make maps of abstract realms, too. On p. 1464, a team at the University of Oxford provides evidence that gridlike neuronal activity throughout the brain helps people organize nonnavigation knowledge—for the purposes of the new study, differences in body shape between various types of birds.