The ability to recognize familiar faces & locations is crucial to everyday life.
By using new cutting-edge technology in the form of ‘sub-millimeter’ brain implants researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), have been able to determine which parts of the brain are linked to facial and scene recognition. As you can imagine, this is a massive step forward in the fight against Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The journal, Current Biology, has just published details of the study, in which lead author, Nitin Tandon, MD, who works as a professor of neurosurgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, stated, “Identifying someone allows you to communicate with them and know who they are, and having this basic skill helps an individual attach an identity to those around them, making it easier to differentiate the who, what, and where.”
Breaking New Frontiers
Until now, medics have understood that the brain’s main regions which are connected with identification processes, have been the hippocampus and parahippocampal gyri, both of which are found in the MTL (medial temporal lobe). But now, after this new study, scientists have determined that “the memory network responsible for identification extends beyond the MTL, including a region deep inside the brain called the medial parietal cortex (MPC).”
Putting the Subjects to the Test
In order to ascertain whether they could put a name to what and who, they were shown, the scientists presented the subjects with approximately 300 photos of famous places and celebrity faces. Postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Neurosurgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, and first author of the study, Oscar Woolnough, PhD, noted, “One of the things that we were able to determine, was that the MPC [medial parietal cortex] has specific regions involved in face and scene recognition.
The MPC was preferentially activated when the patients recognized the people and places, exactly the same as traditional memory regions in MTL. We were also able to see how the MPC and MTL work together to help a person recognize faces and places.”
The Link With Alzheimer’s
Previous studies have indicated that where the MPC is found in this particular region of the parietal lobe this part of the brain is the one that starts to degenerate early in Alzheimer’s patients. Moreover, being able to pinpoint it as an area within the brain which assists recognition and memory, gives scientists the necessary knowledge that regions which are not within what was regarded as the accepted memory region, that is to say, the hippocampus, are crucial in helping medics comprehend just how brain abnormalities such as Alzheimer’s impact sufferers.
It has been a long and winding road to try to help the countless people and their families and loves ones, who are affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia. Let’s hope that this study will offer a piece in the jigsaw to unravel the secrets of the human brain.