The existence of GPS-like brain cells, which can store maps of the places we've been, like our kitchen or holiday destination, was already widely known, but this discovery shows there is also a type of brain cell sensitive to the distance and direction of objects that can store their locations on these maps.
The findings, detailing these cells called vector trace cells (VTC), were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
"The discovery of vector trace cells is particularly important as the area of the brain they are found in is one of the first to be attacked by brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, which could explain why a common symptom and key early 'warning sign' is the losing or misplacement of objects," said lead researcher Steven Poulter from Durham University in Britain.
According to Colin Lever from Durham University, these cells appear to connect to creative brain networks which help us to plan our actions and imagine complex scenarios in our mind's eye.
"Vector trace cells acting together likely allow us to recreate the spatial relationships between ourselves and objects, and between the objects in a scene, even when those objects are not directly visible to us," Lever said.