KEYWORDS: Neurophysiology, Brain mapping, Grid cells, Hippocampus, spatial representation, Edvard Moser.
SHE THOUGHT IT
May-Britt Moser was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize with John O’Keefe and her husband Edvard I. Moser for their “discoveries of cells that constitute a positioning system in the brain”1.
Moser was born in Fosnavåg, Norway, in 1963. The youngest of five children, she spent her childhood outdoors, observing animals and playing with them2. Between 1984 and 1990 she attended the University of Oslo, where she met her future husband, Edvard Moser. They first studied psychology, and later neurobiology together. The couple married in 1985 and have two daughters, Isabel (1991) and Ailin (1995). When it came to her children, Moser found a way to keep them close: bringing them to the laboratory or to conferences. She and her husband took turns taking care of the children. The Mosers received a PhD in 1995 under the supervision of neurophysiologist Per Andersen and undertook research with Richard Morris at the University of Edinburgh. May-Britt Moser spent a month at neuroscientist John O’Keefe’s laboratory in London (University College), before she became an associate professor of biological psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology at Trondheim in 1996. She held this position for four years, while simultaneously working in a laboratory with her husband. In 2000, they received a three-year grant from the European Commission and at the end of 2002, a ten year research funding for the Centre for the Biology of Memory (co-founded with Edvard Moser).
The team achieved a scientific breakthrough in 2005 with the discovery of grid cells in the entorhinal cortex of rats that activate during spatial navigation. This enabled researchers to better understand, among other things, Alzheimer’s disease2.
May-Britt Moser is currently the director of the Centre for Neural Computation and, since 2007, co-director of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, where she guides a team of students and international researchers. She is also on the editorial board of the journal Hippocampus since 2007.
SCIENTIFIC RECOGNITION AND COLLABORATION
May-Britt Moser’s life and career have been marked by several male scientists, most notably by her husband, Edvard Moser, with their paths running parallel since their undergraduate studies in Oslo. Unlike many other scientific couples in Nobel history, the Mosers seem to have always had an equal share in their research and its discoveries and accomplishments. They are the fifth couple to share a Nobel Prize. Nevertheless, at the Nobel Prize ceremony, May-Britt Moser’s unique dress was as talked about as her scientific discoveries3.
The Mosers’ main interest lies in finding out how brain maps space2. For this reason, they carried out (and continue to carry out) numerous experiments on rats. The discovery of the grid cell network in a part of the brain known as the entorhinal cortex in 2005 proved to be a milestone in answering this question2.
Other significant male mentors of May-Britt Moser include British neuroscientist Richard Morris and Norwegian researcher Per Andersen. The Mosers had to convince Andersen at first that they were worthy of working as graduate students in his laboratory, but he would come to supervise their PhD2. The couple joined Morris at the University of Edinburgh during their doctoral studies and American-British neuroscientist John O’Keefe in London. The latter (who shared the Nobel Prize with the Mosers) had made first significant breakthroughs in cortical mapping with student Jonathan O. Dostrovsky in 19711. This research served as a basis for the Mosers, who followed up on the idea that the hippocampus plays an important part in spatial representation and tested this hypothesis in their experiments2.
SHE SAID IT
“My mother liked to tell me fairy tales, but she didn’t want to frighten me with the scary parts. Instead, she would tell me the parts of the stories that talked about hopes and dreams […]. I loved it when my mother would read me these fairy tales. It also made me believe that even though you have nothing you can become something – it was a bit of the American dream!”
“My mother’s dream and the experience of meeting missionaries made me eager to go abroad so I could work as a doctor and save the world.”
“[…] my mother warned me that if I didn’t work hard I would have to go to school to study home economics and be a housewife. That thought horrified me.”
“What was interesting was that Per was so sure that this project would be a failure and that it would not be funded that he tried to stop me from sending the grant proposal to the Research Council. I kept going to his office with the application I wrote to see if he had changed his mind, and finally he just gave in – he always had to give in, like my dad typically gave in when I insisted. Then I sent in my application, and both Edvard and I got grants – a surprising and joyful moment in our lives”.
“The answer is that we were so driven to understand the brain that we simply made things work, we could not see any problems – nothing could stop us”.
cited in “May-Britt Moser – Biographical” (2014), Nobelprize.org, Nobel Media AB, <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2014/may-britt-moser-bio.html> (last accessed 23 Jan. 2017)
“I don’t think about being male or female, I just behave naturally. I think in terms of excellence in science, not gender”.
Moser, May-Britt / Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, “Nobel Laureates: Women Are Just As Gifted in Science as Men’” (20 Aug. 2015), Spiegel, interviewed by Rafaela von Bredow and Kerstin Kullmann, <http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/spiegel-interview-with-two-female-nobel-prize-recipients-a-1047838.html> (last accessed 23 Jan. 2017)
PRIZES, ACHIEVEMENTS, HONOURS4
1999: Prize for young scientists awarded by the Royal Norwegian Academy for Sciences and Letters.
2003: Elected member of The Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters.
2005: Elected member of The Norwegian Academy of Science
2005: 28th annual W. Alden Spencer Award (College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University).
2006: 10th Prix “Liliane Bettencourt pour les Sciences du Vivant” (Fondation Bettencourt, Paris)
2006: 14th Betty and David Koetser Award for Brain Research (University of Zürich).
2008 : 30th Eric K. Fernström’s Great Nordic Prize (Fernström Foundation, University of Lund).
2010: Elected member of The Norwegian Academy of Technological Sciences (NTVA).
2011: 26th Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine (Louis-Jeantet Foundation)
2011: Anders Jahre’s Great Nordic Prize for Medical Research (Univ. Oslo)
2011: Elected member of Academia Europaea.
2012: Elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).
2013: 13th Perl/UNC Neuroscience Prize (Univ. of North Carolina)
2013: 102nd annual Fridtjof Nansen Award of Outstanding Research in Science and Medicine, Norwegian Academy of Science.
2013: ‘Best female leader’ award from Trondheim Business Society (Madame Beyer Award)
2013: 47th Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize for Biology or Biochemistry (Columbia University).
2014: Co-recipient of Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, with Edvard Moser and John O’Keefe.
Kavli institute – NTNU (7 Oct. 2015), “My Running Rat (Elvemo, Palmar Johansen, Moser, Moser)”, short film, YouTube, prod. May-Britt and Edvard Moser, <https://goo.gl/d1MvIf> (last accessed 23 Jan. 2017).
NTNU – University (7 Dec. 2010), “Nobel Jazz Poetry”, YouTube, cr. Helmet, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ermc1Slc39w> (last accessed 23 Jan. 2017). Music video with phrases from their research. The video features John Pål Inderberg (soprano saxophone), Bjørn Alterhaug (bass), Henning Sommero (accordion and barks), and Kristoffer Lo (tuba).
“Discovering grid cells”, Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, NTNU, <http://www.ntnu.edu/kavli/discovering-grid-cells> (last accessed 23 Jan. 2017).
Nobelprize.org, “Nobel Minds” (Dec. 2014), Nobelprize.org, co-prod. SVT and BBC WN, <https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_organizations/nobelmedia/tv_programs/nobelminds.html> (last accessed 23 Jan. 2017). Round-table discussion program with the current year’s Nobel Laureates at the Royal Bernadotte Library in Stockholm.
Rogers, Kara (4 Jan. 2017), “May-Britt Moser”, Encyclopædia Britannica, <https://www.britannica.com/biography/May-Britt-Moser> (last accessed 23 Jan. 2017).
- “The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2014” (2014), Nobelprize.org, Nobel Media AB 2014, <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2014/> (last accessed 23 Jan. 2017).
- “May-Britt Moser – Biographical” (2014), Nobelprize.org, Nobel Media AB, <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2014/may-britt-moser-bio.html> (last accessed 23 Jan. 2017).
- Moser, May-Britt / Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, “Nobel Laureates: Women Are Just As Gifted in Science as Men’” (20 Aug. 2015), Spiegel, interviewed by Rafaela von Bredow and Kerstin Kullmann, <http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/spiegel-interview-with-two-female-nobel-prize-recipients-a-1047838.html> (last accessed 23 Jan. 2017).
- Dana, Kaiser (6 Oct. 2014), “May-Britt Moser”, Academia Europae, <http://www.ae-info.org/ae/Member/Moser_May-Britt> (last accessed 23 Jan. 2017).