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Researchers discover cells that help with facial recognition

Scientists have pinpointed a group of cells that help people recognise familiar faces – findings that could lead to further insight on face blindness

face blurred
Pixabay/maulana akbarudin

New research that has isolated a group of cells responsible for recognising faces could one day lead to clinical advancements assisting those who suffer from prosopagnosia or face blindness.

The study, which was published in Science, describes a class of neurons in the brain’s temporal pole region that link face perception to long-term memory.

Researchers showed a pair of rhesus monkeys pictures of familiar faces they had seen in person and unfamiliar faces they had only seen virtually.

During the experiment, the scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging to observe activity in the temporal pole region of the monkeys’ brains.

They found that neurons in this area responded three times more strongly to photos of familiar faces than pictures of unfamiliar faces.

In the future, the findings may have clinical implications for prosopagnosia – which affects around 1% of the population.

Winrich Freiwald, professor of neurosciences and behavior at The Rockefeller University, highlighted that face blind people offer suffer from depression.

“It can be debilitating, because in the worst cases they cannot even recognise close relatives," Freiwald said.

"This discovery could one day help us devise strategies to help them,” he added.