2014年10月6日 星期一

Brain's GPS earns three neuroscientists a Nobel Prize

Onionhead Cerebrum
2014年諾貝爾醫學獎(Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine)

2014年諾貝爾醫學獎得主2014/10/06揭曉,得獎者為美國科學家 John O'Keefe,以及挪威科學家 May-Britt Moser 和 Edvard Moser 夫婦。三位傑出的科學家是因為「發現組成大腦定位系統的細胞」(for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain),而從263位候選人之中脫穎而出,共享殊榮。(http://goo.gl/f21v6b

其中 John O'Keefe 得到800萬瑞典克朗(SEK)獎金的一半,另半獎金則由 May-Britt Moser 和 Edvard Moser 夫婦均分。⋯⋯更多


UPDATED: Brain's GPS earns three neuroscientists a Nobel Prize

Email Gretchen

Gretchen Vogel
6 October 2014 11:45 am 0 Comments

Research on how the brain knows where it is has bagged the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the Nobel Committee has announcedfrom Stockholm. One half of the prize goes to John O'Keefe, director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in Neural Circuits and Behaviour at University College London. The other is for a husband-wife couple: May-Britt Moser, who is director of the Centre for Neural Computation in Trondheim, and Edvard Moser, director of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Trondheim.

In the 1970s, John O´Keefe discovered the first component of this positioning system, a kind of nerve cell that is active when a rat is in a certain place in a room. Trying to learn more about how individual brain cells could control behavior, he recorded signals from individual nerve cells in a rat’s brain as the animal moved around a room. He noticed that a specific cell in the brain region called the hippocampus would signal each time the rat was in a specific part of the room. Different cells corresponded to different places, and O’Keefe concluded that these “place cells” allowed the rat to construct a mental map of the environment. The hippocampus stores multiple maps, based on the activity of place cell activities.

Three decades later, May‐Britt and Edvard Moser were trying to figure out more about how the place cells work, when they discovered another set of cells in a neighboring part of the brain, the entorhinal cortex. Those cells, called “grid cells,” play a role similar to the grid on street maps that can help locate a specific street or point of interest. In a series of three papers inScience and Nature between 2004 and 2006, they laid out how the brain uses the grid cells to help animals find their way, even in the dark. “We’re over the moon about this discovery,” O’Keefe told Science in 2006 in a feature story on the history of place and grid cells.

"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? How do we experience our environment?" the Nobel Committee says in its statement.

The cells are likely affected early in disorders like Alzheimer's disease. One of the first symptoms in Alzheimer patients is that they lose their way and become disoriented easily.

Edvard Moser still has to find his way home to join the celebrations underway in Trondheim. When his wife received the call from the Nobel Committee informing her of the prize this morning, he was on an airplane flying to Munich, she told Nobelprize.org in an interview.

The brain science that just won a Nobel Prize could help us build better cities

 October 6 at 12:36 PM

The Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine was given Monday morning to three scientists who've uncovered the "inner GPS" in our brains that helps us find our way through the world around us, identifying where we are, where we've been and how to get back there again. From the Nobel committee's poetic announcement:
The discoveries of John O'KeefeMay‐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 answers have some direct implications for how we understand diseases like Alzheimer's that rob people of their spatial memory. But they also have some fascinating implications for perfectly healthy people, too, and for the way we design spaces — from individual buildings to neighborhoods and whole transportation networks — that we move through daily. While the first story is clearly the province of scientists and doctors, the second is very much of interest to urban planners, architects and cartographers.
For them, the evolving science of your "inner GPS" could help create places that aren't so confusing — or help us understand why so many of the places we've already built (medical complexes, train stations, downtown Atlanta) are.
First, a very quick sketch of what the newest Nobel laureates have taught us about our brains (and the brains of rats): Back in 1971, O'Keefe discovered nerve cells in rats that activated each time the animals passed by a particular location in a room. When the rats were in one corner, certain cells in their brains activated; when they were in a different part of the room, other cells lit up. O'Keefe called these "place cells," and research since his initial discovery suggests that humans have them, too. They help us construct mental maps of space, recognizing the difference between one street corner and the next, between your cubicle and your coworker's. TheMosers (they're married) much more recently added to this the discovery of"grid cells" that, along with place cells, allow us to determine our position in the world and to navigate through it.
All of this inner navigational work happens without any conscious effort on our part. And yet actual navigation is a real-world challenge most of us wrestle with every day. When you're wandering through a hospital, how do you find the right doctor's office? When you're walking through an unfamiliar city, how do you find your way back to your hotel? In a world where so many of us now use literal GPS systems — with smartphones or in-car navigation screens — are we outsourcing our mental maps to machines? As Sarah Goodyear has explained, for instance, children who are driven everywhere (instead of walking) often don't know where they're going.
In the world of architecture, there's now research underway to determine if all this new neuroscience could help design hospitals where people are less likely to get lost. In many cities, local governments are now deploying thescience (and art) of "wayfinding," creating street signs and cues that might more intuitively help people find their way through baffling environments (and toward, say, the train station or nearest public bathroom).
Scientists are also learning a lot about the external cues — sights, smells and sounds around us — that influence all this internal mapping in our brains. Perhaps this might ultimately tell us something about which kinds of environments aid or tax our brains more: chaotic cities or quiet suburbs, visually stimulating neighborhoods, or cookie-cutter subdivisions?
Mayank Mehta, a neurophysicist at UCLA who has studied place cells, raised a provocative issue when I talked to him about all of this last year. Evolutionarily speaking, our brains evolved to understand space and navigation moving at a slow speed — while walking. But now, most of us travel, navigate and process environments every day by car (or in even more disorienting environments like subway systems). So how does thatchange the brain's ability to understand space? "The fastest we learned to process the world go by was the fastest a human could run," Mehta told me. "In a car, the world goes way faster than that."
It's too soon to say what that means for our internal maps (and the frustration we experience moving through the world). But these questions broached by the research of neuroscientists could influence the way we think about building better environments in the real world.
Emily Badger is a reporter for Wonkblog covering urban policy. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities.