This year’s Nobel Prize of medicine (2014) has been awarded to a team of 3 scientists who have discovered the ‘brain’s GPS’. Their research work entails the internal positioning system of the brain that enables us to navigate through our environment.
2014 Nobel Prize for medicine goes to the scientists who located the ‘GPS’ embedded in the human brain, John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser. The ‘GPS’ is, in fact, the brain’s internal positioning system that allows us to orient ourselves in space. The mysterious question as to how is our brain tuned to making a map of the space around us such that we can move about successfully in our environment was answered, to a certain extent, by the research.
The study of these three scientists can help shed more light on diseases like Alzheimer’s. The awarding body stated that: “Knowledge about the brain’s positioning system may, therefore, help us understand the mechanism underpinning the devastating spatial loss that affects people with this (Alzheimer’s) disease”.
One of the three, O’ Keefe, had stumbled across a nerve cell type that was always activated when a rat was in a certain position in a room. This nerve cell was in the brain region called the hippocampus. This discovery was made back in 1971 – the first component of the ‘brain GPS’ to be found. Later, O’ Keefe found other nerve cells that were activated when the rat was in different positions. He then concluded that these nerve cells are part of a system allowing to form a map of the room for the rat. His other two colleagues, Edvard Moser and May-Britt Moser, later worked with him to observe the action of the cells found in the hippocampus. Now, they have discovered cells in the entorhinal cortex region of rat’s brains which together form the navigation system. According to them, these cells create a map of our environment, allowing us to situate ourselves, and to know where we’re heading to.
Relating the study to Alzheimer’s
Understanding how the brain’s positioning system works might also lead to further understanding of the processes behind loss of spatial awareness in patients suffering from dementia (this includes diseases like Alzheimer’s) and stroke patients as well.