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Sunday, 7 August 2011

Areas of the brain particularly susceptible to anoxia are important for spatial navigation

The hippocampus is an area of the brain that is particularly sensitive to anoxia, low glucose levels (the brain needs glucose to function), and glucose toxicity (too much glucose).  One of the classic ways to investigate activation of the hippocampus and it's role in allocentric processing (spatial navigation) is by use of the Morris Water Task.  This particular task dates back to Richard Morris who used the task to show that lesions of the hippocampus impair spatial learning.

Since we will probably be affecting our hippocampal function when we ascend to altitude, I thought it would be useful to describe allocentric processing (or spatial navigation) and an example of when we use it. (Some of us actually use it quite often.  And I'd swear that other people have no idea.)

In the video below, I describe how we use allocentric processing of the information around us to find the location of a hidden rock beneath the surface of a lake. Basically, we have to use our brains to triangulate where were remember the location of the rock to be based on distance from shore and the distance from various landmarks or features on shore.

The next video illustrates an eye tracking methodology that we use in the lab to help us identify where people look when they use allocentric processing while navigating a virtual 1st-person perspective environment (such as when they play a video game).

For information discussing the hippocampus, spatial navigation, and brain injury, see the following references:

Goodrich-Hunsaker, N.J., Livingstone, S.A.*(now Lee), Skelton, R.W.. Hopkins, R.O. (2010). Spatial deficits in a virtual water maze in amnesic participants with hippocampal damage. Hippocampus, 20,  481-491.
Livingstone, S.*(now Lee), Skelton, R.W. (2007). Virtual environment navigation tasks and the assessment of cognitive deficits in individuals with brain injury.  Behavioural Brain Research, 185, 21-31.

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