May-Britt Moser’s vision is to understand the neural basis of higher cognitive functions. She has focused her research on spatial navigation and memory because these are fundamental cognitive functions that we share with all animals. Together with Edvard Moser and others she has made several breakthroughs. The most spectacular finding was the discovery of grid cells in the entorhinal cortex.
The discovery of grid cells was succeeded by the identification of other functional cell types in the same brain structure, including head direction cells, conjunctive cells, border cells, object vector cells and speed cells. Collectively the findings point to the entorhinal cortex as a hub for the brain network that makes us able to find our way. The grid cells are thought to provide the brain with information about the metrics of open spatial environments and the object vector cells with information about the direction and distance of oneself to any object in the environment. They also showed that entorhinal cortex codes for episodic time. Thus, the hippocampus is likely to receive information about what happened where and when from the entorhinal cortex – which is necessary information for episodic memory.
Moser’s papers have attracted special interest because spatial representation is one of the first functions to be characterized at a mechanistic level in neuronal networks, and compromised navigation skills is one of the primary symptoms in Alzheimer’s disease. For her work, she was awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, jointly with Edvard Moser and John O’Keefe.
More about May-Britt Moser and the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Photo: TiTT Melhuus/ Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience