Neuroscientists Win Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
The Society for Neuroscience congratulates John O´Keefe, SfN Council member Edvard I. Moser, and May-Britt Moser, the winners of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain. Their work “represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of how ensembles of specialized cells work together to execute higher cognitive functions,” according to the press release from the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute. “It has opened new avenues for understanding other cognitive processes, such as memory, thinking and planning.
The discoveries explain how the brain creates a map of the external environment and allows for navigation in that environment. In 1971, O’Keefe discovered “place cells,” nerve cells in the hippocampus that activate in particular physical locations and thus create an “inner map” of the environment. In 2005, the Mosers discovered another type of nerve cells, called “grid cells,” that create a coordinate system and allow for navigation. They also studied how place and grid cells make it possible to determine position and to navigate.
This research builds on knowledge of the brain´s “inner GPS” and may potentially lead to increased understanding of the mechanism behind the spatial memory loss that affects people with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the award announcement.
O’Keefe, a British-American scientist of University College London, will receive half of the $1.1 million prize, with the other half going to the Mosers, the Norwegian husband-wife team that lead the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience.
Learn more about the Mosers’ work on BrainFacts.org.