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The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2014

nobel prize

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, announced on October 6, was awarded jointly to John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser. 

The prize is given for “their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain” states the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet. This year’s Nobel Laureates have discovered a positioning system, an “inner GPS” in the brain that makes it possible to orient ourselves in space, demonstrating a cellular basis for higher cognitive function.

One half of the prize is given to John O’Keefe, Director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in Neural Circuits and Behaviour at University College London. In 1971, O’Keefe discovered the first component of the positioning system. He
found that a type of nerve cell in an area of the brain called the hippocampus that was always activated when a rat was at a certain place in a room. Other nerve cells were activated when the rat was at other places. O’Keefe concluded that these “place cells” formed a map of the room.

The other half is awarded to May-Britt Moser, Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Centre for Neural Computation in Trondheim, and Edvard I. Moser, Director of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Trondheim. In 2005, May‐Britt and Edvard Moser discovered another key component of the brain’s positioning system. They identified another type of nerve cell, which they called “grid cells”, that generate a coordinate system and allow for precise
positioning and pathfinding. Their subsequent research showed how place and grid cells make it possible to determine position and to navigate.

The Nobel Assembly concludes that the discoveries of John O´Keefe, May‐Britt Moser and Edvard Moser have solved the problem of how the brain creates a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a
complex environment.