Brain’s map cells win three scientists Nobel Prize

Guest post by Tina Hesman Saey

The discovery of brain cells that provide a sort of “inner GPS” has been awarded the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine.

Half of the prize goes to John O’Keefe of University College London. In 1971, he found that “place cell” neurons in the brain’s memory center become active when rats are in certain positions in a maze. Other place cells become active when rats are at different positions. He concluded that place cells form a map of the room.

The second half of the prize is shared by May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser, who in 2005 found “grid cells” in the brain area called the entorhinal cortex. These grid cells lay out coordinates and become active when an animal passes through certain positions. Together with place cells, grid cells create an inner map of the external environment. The Mosers, who work at the the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, are the fifth married couple to share a Nobel prize.

Humans have recently been found to have the same type of navigation system.

A more in-depth story on the Nobel-winning research will be posted later today.

Update, 2:00 p.m.: Our in-depth story is now posted.

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