What rodents have taught us about spatial cognition and memory
In 2014 John won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain - an ‘inner GPS’ - that enables us to orient ourselves.
Hear John O'Keefe talk to Jim Al-Khalili on BBC Radio 4's The Life Scientific.
Professor O'Keefe, who won the award jointly with Professors May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, discovered the first component of this positioning system in 1971 when he found a type of nerve cell in the hippocampus that became activated whenever a rat was in one location in a room, with a different set of cells active when the rat was in a different area. He concluded that these 'place cells' formed a map of the room. In 2005, the Mosers identified a nerve cell that allows for precise positioning and pathfinding. The place cells and nerve cells discovered make it possible for the brain to determine position.
The Nobel Assembly said today: "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?
"The discovery of the brain's positioning system represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of how ensembles of specialised cells work together to execute higher cognitive functions. It has opened new avenues for understanding other cognitive processes, such as memory, thinking and planning."
Last edited: 10 December 2018 12:35