NARSAD Grantee Maps Brain Navigation – Insights May Help Treat Schizophrenia

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David Foster, Ph.D., Expert on Schizophrenia
David Foster, Ph.D.

With the support of a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant, David Foster, Ph.D., led research to understand spatial memory in the hippocampus area of the brain. His findings, published online today in Nature, have potential clinical relevance for treating complex disorders such as schizophrenia.

When we plan a road trip, we may look at the map or use one of the many online services to predict the best possible route to our destination. But our own spatial memory also serves as a mapping device, retaining information about locations in a particular environment. Just as lab rats use their spatial memory to learn how to navigate through a maze to find food, we use our spatial memory to navigate through familiar streets, neighborhoods and locations in our city to get to our final destination. The hippocampus is the part of the brain, in both rats and humans that is responsible for spatial memory. Specialized cells in the hippocampus, called place-cells, have been proposed to play a role in navigational planning, but so far, researchers have lacked direct evidence to prove it.

Dr. Foster and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Brad Pfeiffer at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore found that when rats were allowed to navigate through an open area, the hippocampus produced spatial signals that enabled the animals to find their way between known locations and also enabled the rats to find paths to novel locations.

The Hopkins researchers implanted rats with tiny electrodes that were lowered into their hippocampus, allowing researchers to record neuronal activity from over 250 cells in the animals’ brain as they navigated in search of food. The researchers observed that as the animals moved, place-cells reactivated prior spatial memories but also signaled to create novel routes between old and new locales that had not been linked to previous experiences. Mapping their cognitive circuit unraveled the rats’ intended future paths, a sort of “mental time travel.”

“This ability to look ahead in time and space and plan complex sequences of behavior may also contribute to high-level reasoning in people,” says Dr. Foster. “Understanding the basis for this ability in the brain can provide a new potential target for the treatment of disorders of cognition, like schizophrenia.”

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Article comments

Having been diagnosed with schizophrenia about 30 years ago I love it when such promising research is being done. The findings may not help me but maybe some one who suffers from this terrible disease may be helped. Congrats on the insight you're gaining.

You can not treat the schizophrenia before answer the following questions:
1-what are the kind of basic change that occurs in the psychological and mental processes as follows:
A-Oneness of psychological sense of self
B-Activity the psychological volition
C-Receive the visual inputs,and grasp the content of meaning and significance
d-Reception and realize the audio inputs
E-feelings that are emitted in the conscience
F-the individual"s sense of movement-stillness condition with body"s members,and the state of interior areas of the body
G-The process of imagination
h-the process of thinking and rationalization
I-the intrinsic changes that occur in the structural nature of the mental message
j-the process of implicit communication between the individual and himself
k-the process of transforming ideas into behavior
-the process of keeping informations in the memory and retrieved
l-logical sequence between the mental and behavior processes
m-linking the mental process with all other processes
the question:
what is the single cause that affect all usual psychological and mental operations ?

The mental and emotional events(hall) that embodied by schizophrenia cause within the psychological component of the individual,focused its efforts to development a rapid and sudden change in the level of attention factor,later to become responsible for development all kinds of turmoil in the normal mental,psychological and behavioral processes
-Can not be any way to stop or disrupt the mental and emotional events that embodied by schizophrenia cause,and keep hope confined to adjust the level of attention factor that appropriate to run the mental processes that target the production of behavior that is consistent with the requirement of daily life
-So that,the treatment of schizophrenia is the ways to how to return the attention factor level to its normal state,in where there is a mental events(hall) that occur by schizophrenia factor and act to raise the level of attention in the same time,wherever each mental message that occur in the brain is act to raise the level attention

My son is 22 and suffers from Schizophrenia. I believe this research makes sense according to my experience with him. Today my son came back home and said to me. "Mum I cant do anything, I cant even go for a walk' I asked why is that and he said "when I go in to the park I come out somewhere completely different and when I walk on the street bus stops just appears' - My son seam to struggle with making sense of his visual input although he has lived in our neighbourhood all his life and knows it very well. He developed Psychotic symptoms 4 years ago and has been on a string of medication (Antipsychotics) one thing he loves though is to be driven around in the car. It seams that this has a calming effect on him and we (me and my husband) drive him around for at least an hour / day to make him feel better this also indicates that his 'place-cells' are involved and the fact that he can see a movement where we guide him home again in the car is calming to him. He has been diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia.

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Please note that researchers cannot give specific recommendations or advice about treatment; diagnosis and treatment are complex and highly individualized processes that require comprehensive face-to- face assessment. Please visit our "Ask an Expert" section to see a list of Q & A with NARSAD Grantees.
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