Neuroscientists at the University College London have carried out a series of experiments to find out how exactly neurons present in the hippocampus of rats’ brain behave. First, the researchers allowed the animals to view food kept in a specific location on a T-shaped track. The track was not accessible to the rats.
Before giving the rats the chance of walking along the T-shaped track in order to reach the food item, the researchers kept them in a separate chamber and allowed them to rest.
The researchers made a surprising discovery upon testing the activities of the place cells within the animals’ hippocampus. They found that the place cells in the hippocampus of the rats shoot absolutely similar signals when the animals were resting and when they were moving along the track with the aim of reaching the food item.
This, according to the neuroscientists, indicates that the rats were actually imagining or dreaming that they were moving along the track even when they were asleep or taking rest.
Experts believe that the findings of this study will be helping scientists to unravel how our brain helps us in planning activities even when we are in our sleep
Dr. Hugo Spiers of the University College London, a behavioral neuroscientist and the leader of the research team, said that the findings of this new study suggest that rats might possess the ability of simulating the future.
Although the rats could view the food items, they didn’t have any access to them. As a result, when resting, the brains of the animals appeared to be checking a mental map of the place they will need to move along to reach the food.
When the same experiments were repeated without food, Dr. Spiers and his colleagues didn’t notice any evidence of simulation.
According to Dr. Spiers, this difference in results has made the research team believe that rats tend to simulate a journey that will reward them with food.
Here, it must be mentioned that the neuroscientists used honey coated rice for the experiments. They didn’t use cheese as it doesn’t have a lasting smell. Another reason of using honey coated rice is that several studies conducted in the past few decades have shown that rats just love to eat rice covered with honey.
The study has been published in the widely read open access journal eLife on June 26.