Born: 18 November 1939, New York, NY, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: University College, London, United Kingdom
Prize motivation: "for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain"
Field: physiology, spatial behavior
Prize share: 1/2
The awareness of one's location and how to find the way to other places is crucial for both humans and animals. To understand the ability to orient ourselves in space, John O'Keefe studied the movements of rats and signals from nerve cells in the hippocampus, an area located in the center of the brain. In 1971 he discovered that when a rat was at a certain location in a room, certain cells were activated, and that when the rat moved to another location, other cells became activated. That is to say, the cells form a kind of internal map of the room.
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