Washington: A team of scientists has located the part of brain that helps human navigate, explaining why some people are better navigators.
The study from University College London shows that the strength and reliability of "homing signals" in the human brain vary among people and can predict navigational ability.
The research reveals that the part of the brain that signals which direction a person is facing, called the entorhinal region, is also used to signal the direction in which he needs to travel to reach his destination.
This part of the brain tells people not only which direction they are currently facing, but also which direction they should be facing in the future, in other words, the researchers have found where the "sense of direction" comes from in the brain and worked out a way to measure it using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Researcher Hugo Spiers said that this type of "homing signal" has been thought to exist for many years, but until now it has remained purely speculation and studies on London cab drivers have shown that the first thing they do when they work out a route is calculate which direction they need to head in.
Spiers added that they now know that the entorhinal cortex is responsible for such calculations and the quality of signals from this region seems to determine how good someone's navigational skills will be.
The entorhinal region is one of the first parts of the brain affected by Alzheimer's disease, so the findings may also help to explain why people start to get lost in the early stages of the disease. The researchers hope to develop their simple simulation task so that it might be used to aid early diagnosis and monitor the progression of the disease.
The study is published in Current Biology.