2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
“The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute has today decided to award the 2014
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, with one half to John O ́Keefe and the other half jointly to May‐Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser, for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain.”
Goran Hansson of the Nobel Committee. O’Keefe is at University College London. He discovered the so-called “place cells” in the hippocampus in 1971. The married Mosers are at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. In 2005 they found the other component of the brain’s inner GPS system, the grid cells.
Juleen Zierath, chair of the Nobel Committee, explains in terms of visiting Sweden and looking for a landmark, a recovered 17th-century Swedish warship called the Vasa Ship.
“You’re going to go visit an exciting city like Stockholm. And you’ve never been there before. And so, the first thing you do is you take a map from the hotel. And you’re going to help your family find the Vasa Ship. So you have landmarks on the map. It could be the city hall, it could be the concert house, it could be the palace, and the Vasa Ship. Those are like your place cells, because as you pass those landmarks, they recognize your place in space.
“The other thing you need on that map is longitude and latitude. You need to find a way to navigate to the Vasa Ship in a very efficient way. And the grid cells function like that navigational chart. They help you judge your distance and help you find your way.
“The remarkable thing is that we don’t need to have the map in our hands. We have these maps in our brain. And so I would describe it that way. Thanks to our grid and place cells, we don’t have to walk around with a map to help us find our way each time we visit a city, because we have that map in our head.”
For a more in-depth listen about the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, look for the Scientific American Science Talk podcast later this morning.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]