Known for her talk show, magazine and philanthropic deeds, Oprah Winfrey is one celebrity who resides in people's heart and mind.
Researchers claim that seeing her picture or hearing her name triggers specialized "Oprah neurons" in people's brains.
And it's not just about Oprah, because our brains are similarly attuned to other celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, and even Saddam Hussein.
The study of epileptic patients with electrodes implanted in their brains is not focused only on our celebrity-obsessed culture.
Instead, the research has explained how distinct images and sounds of a person can trigger a general concept of them, said Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, a neuroscientist at the University of Leicester, UK.
"If I see my mother, I'm not just recognizing my mother. Many things are happening. I remember the last time I saw her; I remember what she looks like; I remember that I love her; I remember her cooking," New Scientist magazine quoted him as saying.
In an earlier research, Quian Quiroga's team had reported the existence of neurons that fire at the sight of different pictures of Jennifer Aniston, or in some cases her name spelled out on a computer screen.
To know whether these cells respond to visual cues only, or to information from other senses as well, the researchers added sound to their tests.
"If I said 'Oprah', the way this information is processed is completely different than if I showed you the name 'Oprah' (as text)," he said.
For the study, the researchers worked with seven patients with epilepsy on untreatable drugs and who had electrodes implanted in their brains in order to hunt down the cells responsible for their seizures.
By pinpointing the source of the disturbances, surgeons could remove the area responsible and leave healthy parts intact.
Meanwhile, the researchers recorded hundreds of electrical signals from individual neurons in the medial temporal lobe, a large area that includes a structure involved in storing and retrieving memories, called the hippocampus.
The researchers showed the patients pictures of celebrities or their names printed out, or they played a computer pronouncing their name and also tested famous locales, such as the Eiffel Tower and the World Trade Center.
It was observed that many neurons, particularly those in the hippocampus, fired to specific concepts, whether of Oprah or a building.
For celebrities, the neurons fired depending on whether the stimulus was delivered through sight or sound.
"It is important we have neurons doing this kind of abstraction, this is how we store memories," said Quian Quiroga.
However, "Oprah neuron" was nit solely dedicated to the talk show queen, because the same neuron also fired, albeit much more weakly, to Whoopi Goldberg in one patient.
Similarly, Luke Skywalker neurons also responded to Yoda, and those famous Jennifer Aniston neurons flashed to her former 'Friends' co-star Lisa Kudrow.
Such connections could explain how our brain relates two abstract concepts, said Quian Quiroga.
Specific neurons also fired in response to the names and pictures of other people as well.