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Biotech Medicine Science

Nobel Prize For Medicine Awarded For "Brain GPS" Research 33

Dave Knott writes U.S.-British scientist John O'Keefe and Norwegian married couple May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discovering the "inner GPS" that helps the brain navigate through the world. O'Keefe, currently director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in Neural Circuits and Behaviour at 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, the Mosers, of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, identified another type of nerve cell — the "grid cell" — that generates a coordinate system for precise positioning and path-finding, These findings on rats — and research suggests humans have the same system in their brains — represent a paradigm shift in our knowledge of how cells work together to perform cognitive functions and could help scientists understand the mechanisms behind Alzheimer's disease.
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Nobel Prize For Medicine Awarded For "Brain GPS" Research

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  • by tiberus ( 258517 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @10:37AM (#48073215)
    Heard about this on NPR during the morning drive and how the "place cells" were found 30 years ago and how that researcher's students found "grid cells" recently to complete the picture. The most intriguing part of the story was the expectation of the impact that this discovery will have on the world of philosophy, as it now it know that our brains have a physical (mathematically based and similar to a computer) mechanism for knowing where we are in 3D space. They also discussed while no practical use or 'cures' are on the immediate horizon, this is apparently the first brain function to go with the onset of Alzheimer's and may lead to greater understanding.
    • this is apparently the first brain function to go with the onset of Alzheimer's and may lead to greater understanding.

      It's my understand that it's protein plaque forming between neurons, thus interfering with communications between the cells. As such, having information constantly being re-routed as the disease progresses makes sense that orientation would be disrupted. Would it not?

      • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

        this is apparently the first brain function to go with the onset of Alzheimer's and may lead to greater understanding.

        It's my understand that it's protein plaque forming between neurons, thus interfering with communications between the cells. As such, having information constantly being re-routed as the disease progresses makes sense that orientation would be disrupted. Would it not?

        I think that is a definite maybe. I'd think it would depend on how this functionality actually works. If the brain re-wires its connections, then from one standpoint you'd think the new neurons could just take the place of the old ones. On the other hand, if the brain actually implemented 3D problem-solving by actually running the problems in a physical model of a 3D world that could break down. For example, if figuring out the fastest way from A to B involved sending signals out through a network and s

    • While place and grid cells have been identified in the brain, we still have no idea how those functions are computed (people in my group and many others are working on this problem). We don't yet know how these representations are combined with our sensory experiences to form episodic memories (again, there are hypotheses, but no standard theory exists). There's no question that O'Keefe and the Mosers deserve the prize, but their work literally represents the mere beginning of this line of research.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I was present at a talk where the PI first presented these findings a number of years ago, at least I think it was this guy. Turns out the person who actually figured it out was a physics-oriented student who was doing a stint in the lab. I think this is an excellent example of how the future of discovery lies in interdisciplinary collaboration, needing people from various disciplines working closely together to forge ahead. Indeed, many of the top universities have recognized this, which is why they are na

  • GPS buzzword (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Monday October 06, 2014 @11:39AM (#48073689)
    I don't understand why the press keep referring to this as a "GPS". We all know that we build a mental map of our surroundings; the science they did was figuring out how different parts of the brain work together to build, store, and use that map. But I suppose GPS sounds better than a Dead Reckoning system, which is what it really is.
  • ... my wife. Neiman Marcus is jamming her brain in much the same way Iran messed with our spy drones.

  • So here we are with an internal matrix supposing that the reality that we live in is also some giant matrix. What'a a poor boy to do?
  • I'm sure that some will see this as inappropriate, but I wonder if research will eventually discover that men and women have slightly different mechanisms for location mapping in their brains...

  • Another Nobel Prize for something that could be useful.

    http://blog.sethroberts.net/20... [sethroberts.net]

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