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article imageRats dream about the places they want to go

By Tim Sandle     Jun 27, 2015 in Science
London - According to new research, rats dream about places that they want to go next. This is a theory from neuroscientists following some classic maze and hidden food experiments.
According to New Scientist magazine, rats were shown food towards the end of a path along a maze that they could access due to the presence of a grille. The scientists found that when the rats went to sleep, certain neurons in their brains were active. The neuroscientists concluded that the rats were dreaming about running through the maze to reach the food. They went onto demonstrate this through experiments.
The researchers argue that, as with people, rats store mental maps in the region of the brain called the hippocampus. Humans and other mammals have two hippocampi, one in each side of the brain. This region is the part of the brain that is involved in memory forming, organizing, and storing. It is also part of the emotion system of the brain, termed the “limbic system.” This entire region functions to transfer information into memory. With people who suffer with Alzheimer's disease, it is the the hippocampus that is one of the first brain areas to suffer damage.
The researchers made their new finding about rats after subjecting the rodents to various spatial, food-based puzzles. Then, as the animals slept, they attached electrodes to their brains. The analysis showed that different places that the rat has visited are captured, processed and remembered through neurons firing together.
In a second wave of studies, when the rats awoke, the barrier to the food was removed. Given multiple options, the rats recalled the area where the food had been blocked, moved in that direction and eat the food. Electrodes fitted to the rats showed that the same neurons were functioning as the rats completed this task as they had been while the animals dreamt.
The research was led by Hugo Spiers of University College London. The research has been published in eLife, in a paper titled "Hippocampal place cells construct reward related sequences through unexplored space."
More about Rats, Dreams, Food, mazes, Alzheimer's
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