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Nobel Prize in Medicine awarded for brain GPS research
 
Oct 06, 2014
 
Agencies
 
"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,"


A U.S.-British scientist and a Norwegian husband-and-wife research team won the Nobel Prize in Medicine Monday for discovering the brain's navigation system — the inner GPS that helps us find our way in the world — a revelation that could lead to advances in diagnosing Alzheimer's.

The research by John O'Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser represents a "paradigm shift" in neuroscience that could help researchers understand the sometimes severe spatial memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease, the Nobel Assembly said.

"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," the assembly said.

O'Keefe, 74, a dual U.S. and British citizen at the University College London, discovered the first component of this system in 1971 when he found that a certain type of nerve cell was always activated when a rat was at a certain place in a room. He demonstrated that these place cells were building up a map of the environment, not just registering visual input.

Thirty-four years later, in 2005, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser, married neuroscientists at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, identified another type of nerve cell — the grid cell — that generates a co-ordinate system for precise positioning and path-finding, the assembly said.

Monday's award was the fourth time that a married couple has shared a Nobel Prize and the second time in the medicine category.

"This is crazy," an excited May-Britt Moser, 51, told The Associated Press by telephone from Trondheim.

"This is such a great honour for all of us and all the people who have worked with us and supported us," she said. "We are going to continue and hopefully do even more groundbreaking work in the future."

Her 52-year-old husband didn't immediately find out about the prize because he was flying to the Max Planck Institute in Munich, Germany, to demonstrate their research. Edvard Moser told the Norwegian news agency NTB he only discovered he had won after he landed in Munich, turned on his cellphone and saw a flood of emails, text messages and missed calls.

The Nobel Assembly said the discoveries marked a shift in scientists' understanding of how specialized cells work together to perform complex cognitive tasks. They have also opened new avenues for understanding cognitive functions such as memory, thinking and planning.

"Thanks to our grid and place cells, we don't have to walk around with a map to find our way each time we visit a city, because we have that map in our head," said Juleen Zierath, chair of the medicine prize committee. "I think, without these cells, we would have a really hard time to survive."


 

 
 

 
 

 
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