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Game helps neuroscientists identify brain cell

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A video game has helped researchers locate and identify a new type of brain-cell; one that helps humans keep track of their location when navigating unfamiliar surroundings.

Study participants at the University of Pennsylvania played a bicycle-riding game, in which they were tasked with riding around an open course dotted with target locations. The location flags were then hidden, and the riders asked to return to them.

Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania Department of Psychology, worked with partners at Drexel, UCLA and Thomas Jefferson University. They used epilepsy patient volunteers who already have electrodes implanted on their brain as part of their treatment. The researchers then triangulated brain-activity based on firing neurons during the game-playing sessions.

The newly-identified brain cells are called 'grid cells.' "Without grid cells, it is likely that humans would frequently get lost or have to navigate based only on landmarks," said researcher Joshua Jacobs.