A Sense of Place

Research in mice reveals molecular mechanisms that underlie spatial mapping in the brain

A purple network of neurons lit up in different spots
Image: onimate/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Anytime we venture into a new place, our brain’s built-in GPS immediately kicks in and begins to form a spatial map of our surroundings. Over days and even weeks, this map may be solidified as a memory that we can recall to help us navigate more easily whenever we return to that particular location.

Just how the brain forms these spatial maps is astoundingly complex — a process that involves an intricate molecular interplay across genes, proteins, and neural circuits to shape behavior. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the precise steps of this multiplayer interaction have eluded neurobiologists.

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Now, scientists, through a multilab collaboration within the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School, have made a major advance toward understanding the molecular mechanisms that are involved in the creation of spatial maps in the brain.