Brain’s grid cells could navigate a curvy world

representation of firing in curved space

Grid cells in the brain could map a sphere by firing in an unusual pattern (represented above in red), a mathematical analysis suggests.


If we ever need to flee a dying Earth on curved space islands — as humanity was forced to do in Interstellar — our brains will adapt with ease, a new mathematical analysis suggests.

Our home planet is a giant sphere, of course. But to its surface-dwelling inhabitants, the world appears flat. Specialized cells in the brain called grid cells help construct an internal map of this flat space, a discovery that was awarded a 2014 Nobel Prize.

Grid cells could readily map curved space too, researchers report May 6 in Interface. Alessandro Treves of SISSA in Italy and colleagues found that grid cells may handle curves by firing in a slightly different pattern compared with how they fire in flat space. Studies of rats raised in spheres may help scientists better understand how the animals’ grid cells map curved spaces. 

Laura Sanders is the neuroscience writer. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Southern California.

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