Nobel prize goes to ‘brain GPS’ scientists

A US neuroscientist based at a UK university and married scientists from Norway have won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

October 6, 2014

The award recognises their work in identifying key aspects of an advanced positioning system in the brain, or inner GPS, which makes it possible to know where we are and find our way.

One half of the prize goes to John O’Keefe, a professor in the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and the department of anatomy at University College London. The second half is shared by May-Britt Moser, professor at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and her husband Edvard Moser, a professor in the same institute.

In the early 1970s, Professor O’Keefe discovered the first component of the brain’s positioning system. His work showed that cells in the region of rats’ brains known as the hippocampus create many inner maps of the environment. These maps provide information about positioning and how to recognise new environments.

Professor O’Keefe’s findings had a dramatic impact on the study of how the brain creates behaviour and demonstrated that specialised nerve cells can compute abstract higher brain functions.

More than 30 years later, professors Moser and Moser discovered another component of the positioning system in rats that allows the brain to create a mental representation of the environment, which can be used for navigation in the external world.

Professors Moser and Moser showed that grid cells in a different region of the brain connected to the hippocampus produce a coordinate system that can divide the environment into longitude and latitude and allows us to keep track of how far we have moved from a starting point or corner.

None of the winners has appeared on David Pendlebury’s prediction list. Mr Pendlebury, a citation analyst at Thomson Reuters, predicts three potential winners of each Nobel prize every year.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

David Parkins Christmas illustration (22 December 2016)

A Dickensian tale, set in today’s university

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard