12308739253_f11096e120_bOne of the benefits of being a scientist is that occasionally we are allowed to leave the lab and mingle with other scientists, to see what they have been slaving away at in their own secluded laboratories. An even rarer event, is when one of these scientists who we can communicate with has won a Nobel Prize. I have been to many international conferences and believe me, Nobel Prize winners are few and far between.

So when the Norwegian scientist May-Britt Moser, the Nobel Laureate for Physiology and Medicine 2014, gave a plenary talk at the British Neuroscience Association 2017 Festival of Neuroscience in Birmingham, I practically skipped into the lecture theater.

British Neuroscience Association.

 

May-Britt won the Nobel Prize with her husband Edvard Moser and John O’Keefe for “their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain”. How do we know where we are and navigate ourselves from place to place. In a nutshell, if we walk into a room, we know spatially where we are and should we wish to, move into another room. We store this information, just in case we go back into the same room, so we don’t get lost. Make sense?

May-Britt and Edvard discovered this when they were monitoring the neural activity into the hippocampus (area of the brain responsible for memory) of rats moving around a room and they observed a consistent pattern in a particular part of the cortex called the “entorhinal cortex”. Here they discovered “grid cells” which are cells that are activated in a unique pattern and are responsible for spatial navigation [1]. These two Norwegian researchers had found the main elements of our “internal GPS system”.

As I listened to May-Britt explain how over many years and many experiments they had proved their theories, I wondered how this new information may help modern society. I still find basic science fascinating as we still have much to delineate about the mechanisms of the human body. However, we live in the  age of bench-to-bedside research and I started to dwell on the implications of this work. Fortunately, this wasn’t May-Britt’s first rodeo!  She illustrated how many of the areas which are involved in spatial navigation are also affected in the neurodegenerative Alzheimer’s disease and they believe these cells may be one of the first cells to be affected by the disease. So hopefully this work may lead to breakthroughs in other neuroscience fields [2]

Neither May-Britt nor Edvard show any signs of slowing down their research activities; They continue to work in their laboratory at the University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway and judging from the enthusiasm that May-Britt gave her talk, a Nobel Prize wasn’t the carrot to make her give up her lab coat just yet!

 

[1] Fyhn, M., Molden, S., Witter, M.P., Moser, E.I., Moser, M.B. (2004) Spatial representation in the entorhinal cortex. Science 305, 1258-1264.

Science

[2] Abbott, A., Neuroscience: Brains of Norway (2014) Nature News.

Nature News