Three find their way to Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine

Their work explains the "GPS" in our brains

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Tuesday 07 October 2014

L-R: John O'Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard I Moser, winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine (Photo courtesy: Wikipedia)

John O´Keefe from the US, May-Britt Moser and Edvard I Moser from Norway share this year's Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for deciphering how our brain works to help us find our way around.

We do this with the help of cells in our brains. These help us figure out where we are and how we go from one place to another. The cells also save this information. John O´Keefe was the first to identify these cells in 1971. He found that a type of nerve cell in an area of the brain called the hippocampus, 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. He figured that in a way, the cells mapped the room. More than three decades later, in 2005, May-Britt and Edvard Moser identified another type of nerve cell, which they called “grid cells”. These generate a coordinate system and allow for precise positioning and path-finding.

Both these findings explain how the brain creates a map of the space surrounding us and how we navigate our way through a complex environment. The research has opened new avenues for understanding other cognitive processes, such as memory, thinking and planning. In patients with Alzheimer´s disease, cells in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex are affected in the early stages of the disease and are not allowed to find their way. Knowledge about the GPS in our brain may help us understand how the disease affects memory in patients and eventually help find treatments.

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