Edvard I. Moser

Prof. Dr. Edvard I. Moser

Nationality
Norway 
Institution
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway 
Award
2014 
Discipline
Physiology or Medicine 
Co-recipients
John O'Keefe, May-Britt Moser  
Motivation
"for their discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain"

Biography on the Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize

CURRICULUM VITAE

It is, unsurprisingly, rare for a Nobel Prize to be awarded to married couples, yet it has happed five times since 1901 – most famously to Marie and Pierre Curie in 1903, and then, 32 years later, to their daughter Irène Joliot-Curie and her husband Frédéric Joliot. What is not so surprising, perhaps, is that this phenomenon really only occurs in the more scientific categories (the exception being Alva and Gunnar Myrdal, who won their awards separately – Gunnar for Economics in 1974, Alva for Peace in 1982). These are the fields in which the prizes are most commonly shared, and the scientific profession naturally allows a certain amount of biological chemistry to occur outside the petri dish.

Edvard and May-Britt Moser in fact met before their scientific careers took off – they grew up in neighbouring coastal towns on Norway’s ruggedly beautiful coast, and attended the same high school in Ulsteinvik - but they were then thrown together at the University of Oslo. From then on they were inseparable, and they married in 1985. It wasn’t simply their similar upbringing that brought the pair together, but a shared interest in neural science. In 1971 John O’Keefe, an American-born scientist working in London, used electrodes im-planted in rats’ brains to trace their brain function. He noticed certain nerves in the hippocampus firing as the rat explored its surroundings and determined that these ‘place cells’ were taking notes to help it recognise and ‘map’ its environment.

Edvard and May-Britt Moser, having both gained PhDs in neurophysiology in 1995, carried out post-doctoral work first in Scotland and then with O’Keefe at University College, London. He taught the couple his techniques for implanting electrodes and the following year the Mosers set up their own laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. Their aim was to further pinpoint the location of ‘place cells’ within the brain but instead found these synapses were triggered by messages from the entorhinal cortex, at the base of the rat's brain. By mapping the rats’ location when these neurons fired the Mosers noticed a pattern forming as the dots on their chart coalesced into clusters which created a regular hexagonal pattern of blobs. This pattern, regularly seen in nature, allows the rat’s brain to form a triangular grid of reference points to properly map an area.

The Mosers’ ongoing experiments found additional layers to the way these ‘grid cells’ work, even in the dark. So-called ‘border cells’ were found to transmit signals about an environment’s edges and boundaries, while ‘head direction cells’, as the name suggests, demonstrated an ability in the rat to discern direction. Subsequent research showed all these functions working collectively to aid orientation and navigation. Their work not only helps scientists to understand how the brain functions but could also help research into memory problems such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Edvard Moser was born in Ålesund, Norway, to German émigré parents, in April 1962. Like his wife, Edvard’s upbringing was not particularly academic – his father built pipe organs for a living – but after high school he attended the University of Oslo in 1984, initially studying mathematics, statistics and programming, then psychology (1985-90) and neurobiology under Per Andersen, gaining his PhD in 1995. Having married May-Britt (nee Andreassen) in 1985, the couple performed postdoctoral research at the University of Edinburgh and then as visiting scientists at University College London, under John O’Keefe. Returning to Norway in 1996 the couple set up their laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. In 2007 the Mosers were awarded funding from the Kavli Foundation to establish the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience at Trondheim. Edvard currently serves as Founding Director of the Kavli Institute, as well as Founding Co-Director of the Centre for Neural Computation and Professor of Neuroscience at Trondheim, and is a visiting researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology near Munich in Germany.

He has received several international awards, including the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (with May-Britt and John O’Keefe) and several others with May-Britt. The couple has two daughters, Isabel and Ailin, both born when the Mosers were still at university.

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Edvard I. Moser

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