The Nobel Assembly on 6 October 2014 decided to award the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to John O´Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser. The award was given for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain.
The Nobel Laureates of 2014 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.
In 1971, John O´Keefe discovered the first component of this 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.
More than three decades later, 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 discoveries of John O´Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser have solved a problem that has occupied philosophers and scientists for centuries – how does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment?
About the awardess
John O’Keefe: He was born in 1939 in New York City, USA. He holds both American and British citizenships. John O´Keefe is currently Director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in Neural Circuits and Behaviour at University College London.
He received his doctoral degree in physiological psychology from McGill University, Canada in 1967. After that, he moved to England for postdoctoral training at University College London. He has remained at University College and was appointed Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in 1987.
May-Britt Moser: She was born in Norway in 1963 and is a Norwegian citizen. Currently, she is the Director of the Centre for Neural Computation in Trondheim. She studied psychology at the University of Oslo together with her future husband and co-Laureate Edvard Moser. She received her Ph.D. in neurophysiology in 1995.
She was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh and subsequently a visiting scientist at University College London before moving to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim in 1996. May-Britt Moser was appointed Professor of Neuroscience in 2000.
Edvard I. Moser: He was born in 1962 in Norway and has Norwegian citizenship. Currently, he is the director of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Trondheim.
He obtained his Ph.D. in neurophysiology from the University of Oslo in 1995. He was a postdoctoral fellow together with his wife and co‐Laureate May‐Britt Moser, first at the University of Edinburgh and later a visiting scientist in John O´Keefe´s laboratory in London.
In 1996 they moved to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, where Edvard Moser became Professor in 1998.
When: 6 October 2014