(Originally published by Lund University [Norwegian])
September 22, 2008
Animals can find their way back to good feeding places and we humans do not get lost on our way to and from the store because the brain is capable of storing information about spatial location. But where does this occur, and how do these internal maps work? Edvard and May-Britt Moser are conducting research in this field at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. They will now share the Erik K Fernström Foundation's Nordic prize of SEK 1 million.
Dean at Medical Faculty of Lund University Bo Ahren,May-Britt Moser, Chairwoman at Fernstrom Foundation Elisabeth Edholm and Edvard Moser. (Photo Courtesy of Kennet Ruona)
Shipowner Erik K. Fernström's foundation is based at the Faculty of Medicine at Lund University. Professors Edvard and May-Britt Moser will receive this year's grand prize for "their groundbreaking studies of the mechanisms in the brain that determine spatial location."
The Mosers' research group has shown that our internal maps are created in a part of the cerebral cortex called the entorhinal cortex. When these findings came along they attracted great international attention.
The entorhinal cortex stores spatial instructions in the form of a triangular grid containing special cells, which are activated according to a raster made of triangles. This general system can be used to build up an infinite number of individual maps, since each cell can be included in many different triangular grids.
In addition to these "grid cells" which show location, the Mosers have also found other neurons that are active in relation to direction and speed. These three components provide everything required for spatial orientation.
Another part of the brain, the hippocampus, is also associated with spatial location. According to Edvard and May-Britt Moser, the hippocampus is responsible for the memories associated with different locations. Almost all memories of events are associated with a certain location, and the cells in the hippocampus become activated when we travel to – or merely think about – a particular place.
The Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience is the world's fourth Kavli institute dedicated to neuroscience research, and it was also designated one of Norway's "Centers for outstanding research". Its research not only increases general knowledge about the mechanisms of the brain, but may also serve as the basis for future diagnosis and treatment of ailments such as Alzheimer's disease. Edvard and May-Britt Moser also hope that the studies of spatial perception, which is a relatively simple ability, may provide clues about the working mechanisms of the cerebral cortex in relation to other tasks.