Friday, March 27, 2015

2014 Nobel Prize Winners Speak at the University of Arizona

Thursday afternoon, Edvard Moser, May-Britt Moser, and John O'Keefe, the three 2014 Nobel Prize winners for Physiology or Medicine, along with Eleanor Maguire, the winner of the 2003 Ig Nobel Prize for her "London taxi driver" study on hippocampal plasticity, spoke at a public forum at the University of Arizona.

Maquire's research on London taxi drivers, before and after going through two to three years of training required to learn and memorize 25,000 streets, revealed that their hippocampus grew as they memorized London's maze of streets. This was one of the first studies that demonstrated hippocampal neuroplasticity. She was awarded a 2003 Ig Nobel Prize for this study.

According to Improbable Research, the bestowers of the Ig Nobel Prize, "The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that make people LAUGH, and then THINK. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology."

The Mosers and O'Keefe won their Nobel Prize in 2014 for their discoveries of specialized cells in the brain that together act as a navigation system. The Mosers discovered neurons that function as grid cells, found in the entorhinal cortex, while O'Keefe discovered neurons that function as place cells, found in the hippocampus.
"All memories are attached in some way to where you are, and in that way, the hippocampus acts as an anchor for remembering yourself within your experience," said Carol Barnes, Regents' Professor in the Departments of Psychology, Neurology and Neuroscience, the Evelyn F. McKnight Endowed Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging.
The hippocampus, according to Wikipedia, "belongs to the limbic system and plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory and spatial navigation." If a person were to suffer severe damage to the hippocampus (both hippocampi, as one exists in each brain hemisphere), it's likely they may acquire anterograde amnesia, an inability to form and/or retain new memories (episodic or autobiographical memory, which are forms of declarative memory). In Alzheimer's Disease, the hippocampus is one of the first brain regions to experience damage, resulting in the disorientation and loss of recognition so common in the disease. However, damage to the hippocampus does not inhibit the ability to learn new skills, such as riding a bicycle (procedural memory).
 
 Spatial firing patterns of 8 place cells recorded from the CA1 layer of a rat. The rat ran back and forth along an elevated track, stopping at each end to eat a small food reward. Dots indicate positions where action potentials were recorded, with color indicating which neuron emitted that action potential. [via Wikipedia]
Below, I have included the honored guests as well as the first half of the press release about the public forum (which is heavy on the U of A is awesome rhetoric).
Guests

Edvard Moser
, Professor and Director, Kavli Institute of Systems Neuroscience; Co-Director, Centre of Neural Computation, Norwegian University of Science and Technology


May-Britt Moser, Professor and Director, Centre of Neural Computation; Co-Director, Kavli Institute of Systems Neuroscience, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

The Moser’s received the 2014 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology (along with J. O’Keefe) for this discovery of grid cells.

John O’Keefe, Professor, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Department of Anatomy, University College London. Dr. O’Keefe received the 2014 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology (along with the Moser’s) for his discovery of place cells.

Eileen O’Keefe
(John’s wife), Emeritus Professor, Public Health, London Metropolitan University


Eleanor Maguire, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College Dublin Dr. Maguire received the 2003 Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine for her ‘London taxi driver’ student on hippocampal plasticity.
And here is the beginning of the press release . . . 

Nobel Laureates Say UA Scientists Paved Way

By Daniel Stolte, University Relations - Communications | March 27, 2015
 
UA researcher Carol Barnes says the new Center for Innovation in Brain Science will serve as a hub of transdisciplinary research. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)
UA researcher Carol Barnes says the new Center for Innovation in Brain Science will serve as a hub of transdisciplinary research. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)

 Four internationally renowned brain scholars visit campus and describe the UA as "one of the centers of neuroscience." The new Center for Innovation in Brain Science will foster transdisciplinary research, with the goal of better diagnostics and treatments for disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

Nobel Prize laureate John O'Keefe, with May-Britt Moser (left) and Eleanor Maguire, says the UA's Carol Barnes "has told us as much about how the brain ages as anyone else." (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)

Take it from several Nobel laureates: Brain researchers at the University of Arizona are poised to make important contributions to finding better diagnoses and possibly treatments for brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

To help commemorate three milestones in brain science research at the UA, four internationally renowned brain scholars — including three who shared the latest Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine — visited the UA campus this week to speak about their scientific careers and reflect on the tight connections they have shared with UA colleagues over many years.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the UA Arizona Research Laboratories Division of Neural Systems, Memory and Aging, or NSMA; the 10th anniversary of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the UA; and the fifth anniversary of the UA School of Mind, Brain and Behavior.

UA President Ann Weaver Hart has named neuroscience as a research priority under the UA's strategic Never Settle plan. The BIO5 Institute and the UA Health Sciences Center have goals of supporting transdisciplinary neuroscience research in partnership with institutions across the state — from the molecular underpinnings of brain-cell health to the translation of this biological knowledge into treatments for neurological disease. The College of Science and the Office for Research and Discovery also are involved in supporting these efforts through the School of Mind, Brain and Behavior; NSMA; and the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute.

During a public forum on Thursday, the UA welcomed the four guests to share their stories of discoveries in neuroscience with UA students, members of the public and the media. The visitors were John O'Keefe and Edvard and May-Britt Moser, who shared the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and Eleanor Maguire, who received the Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2003.

O'Keefe and the Mosers received the prize for their discoveries of specialized cells in the brain that together act like a navigation system.

"All memories are attached in some way to where you are, and in that way, the hippocampus acts as an anchor for remembering yourself within your experience," said Carol Barnes, who organized the visit along with two other UA brain researchers: Lynn Nadel, a Regents' Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science and chair of the UA faculty; and Mary Peterson, professor of psychology and chair of the School of Mind, Brain and Behavior executive committee; director of the Cognitive Science Program; and chair of the Cognitive Science Graduate Interdisciplinary Program.

Edvard Moser said that some important work leading up to the Nobel Prize was done at the UA — for example, developing the technology for recording the activity of many brain cells at the same time, and developing ideas of how memory is generated in the hippocampus.

"The UA is one of the centers of neuroscience," O'Keefe said. "As one of the world's experts on the aging brain, Carol has told us as much about how the brain ages by looking at the hippocampus as anyone else.
Read the whole report on the event.
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