Previously, we wrote about how grid cells are used by the human brain to help us understand where we are in relation to ourselves and our surroundings. This sort of awareness helps humans be able to create maps in their brains, and these maps help us find our way in new surroundings. In the previous article, however, the origins of grid cells was not discussed. In order to fully understand how the human brain creates these maps, it is important to look back at the very discovery of grid cells in lab rats.
Since the 1970s, neuroscientists have known about brain cells that help animals figure out where they are in relation to places they had been before. Usually, this was tested in animals like rats, fruit flies, and certain birds. They can remember where the door to the cage is, where the food dispensing machine is, and where their favorite nesting tree in Michigan is. This animal instinct was known, but the exact location of the brain cells responsible for this was not. Fast forward 35 years to 2005, and to a group of neuroscience researchers, led by married scientists the Mosers, who found these brain cells. The newly-named grid cells were proven to help the brain constantly create maps of one’s surroundings. It helps animals remember where they just were, where they are going, and approximate distances between these places.
For healthy, fully-functioning animals, these grid cells perform a vital purpose. However, it is these very cells that are usually damaged from certain age-related diseases. Being able to prevent this aging and degradation of these grid cells means that scientists would be able to essentially extend the useful lives of this group of brain cells. Further research pinpointed the grid cells in human brains, and clinical trials are currently ongoing to learn more.