/Scientists just discovered long-sought-after ‘grandmother neurons’

Scientists just discovered long-sought-after ‘grandmother neurons’

Summary: New research in monkeys shows that “grandmother neurons” may exist after all.

Original author and publication date; Rebecca Sohn – July 12, 2021

Futurizonte Editor’s Note: How many brain diseases will we be able to cure now that we have found the “grandmother neurons”? How much we will be able to “improve” our brain?

From the article:

What happens in your brain when you recognize your grandmother? In the 1960s, some neuroscientists thought a single brain cell called the “grandmother neuron” would light up only at the sight of your grandmother’s face. Almost immediately, neuroscientists began to dismiss the theory — a single neuron could not correspond to one idea or person, they argued.

More than 50 years later, new research in monkeys shows that “grandmother neurons” may exist after all. In a study published on July 1 in the journal Science, researchers found a small area of the monkey brain that responds only to familiar faces. Up to three times as many brain cells in this area responded to familiar faces than to unfamiliar ones. The study follows research showing that certain parts of the human brain respond to specific categories, including one region primarily dedicated to faces. One study even found that individual neurons in different parts of the brain responded only to specific celebrities and landmarks. But few studies had found any part of the brain that reacts specifically to personally familiar faces.

Though the new research did not identify individual cells devoted to a single person, the brain cells the researchers found share some crucial qualities with the theorized “grandmother neuron.”

“In some sense, you can say they are grandmother neurons,” said Winrich Freiwald, a professor of neuroscience and behavior at The Rockefeller University in New York City, who led the new research. “They have this unique combination of vision and memory.”

The researchers examined the temporal pole, a poorly understood area near the bottom of the brain that Freiwald and lead study author Sofía Landi, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle, had identified as one of two areas that might be involved in familiar face recognition in a study published in 2017 in the journal Science. (The previous research was completed while Landi was a doctoral student in Freiwald’s lab.)

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