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Goal-directed Brain Cells

January 18, 2017

Bats have specialized neurons that help them navigate towards a target.



Goal-directed brain cells. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Many of us rely on our GPS to get us from point A to point B. But Egyptian fruit bats have to navigate in very little light without space-age technology. Now, researchers report in Science magazine that specialized brain cells help the bats find their way to a goal from memory. Weizmann Institute of Science researcher Nachum Ulanovsky says neurons that tell animals where they are in space have been well-studied, but little was known about neural representations of where they’re going.

NACHUM ULANOVSKY (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel):

We found neurons in the hippocampus that encoded the direction and distance to the goal to which the bat was navigating. And this is the first finding in any species of neurons that represent navigational goals in the brain.


The researchers think we may have directionally-tuned neurons as well. But that GPS still might come in handy. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard