Scientists Who Discovered The Brain's Natural GPS Win The Nobel Prize

Scientists Who Discovered the Brain's Natural GPS Won the Nobel Prize

When you walk around a space, certain cells in your brain are quietly mapping out a grid so that you can easily navigate the space. It's a lot like GPS. We know this thanks to three scientists who just won the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Norwegian researchers Edvard Moser and May-Britt Moser, who are married, will share the prize with British American scientist John O'Keefe, who pioneered the researcher over 40 years ago. O'Keefe was the first to identify so-called "place cells," specific nerve cells in the hippocampus that lit up when his lab rats arrived at specific locations. He correctly believed that these cells helped to form a critical component of an internal navigation system in the rats. His research was not widely acknowledged as being significant at the time.

Then, in 2005 Mosers followed up by discovering a second type of nerve cell. The so-called "grid cells" enabled the rats to coordinate and position themselves, much like longitude and latitude allow for precise GPS navigation. They found that these cells in rats fired in specific locations that formed a pattern or grid when viewed from above. That, in turn, gave them new insights into the brain's internal navigation system. The discovery is now being used to gain a deeper understanding of Alzheimer's Disease, of which disorientation and loss of spatial reasoning is a symptom.

The three scientists will meet in Stockholm on December 10 to receive their awards and will also split the $US1.1 million prize. Which sounds like a truly delightful way for devoted scientists to kick off the holiday season. [Nobel]

Picture: Shutterstock


Comments

    My internal GPS must be screwed. I always get lost in those big shopping malls.

    Mentally mapping out a co-ordinate grid based on your last known position isn't really like triangulating your position by computing your distance from four orbiting satellites while measuring the doppler shift of time and position signals transmitted from the satellites at the speed of light, at all - even if the NY Times and BBC dumb it down that way. Just saying.

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