Professor John O’Keefe wins Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Professor John O'Keefe, Director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in Neural Circuits and Behaviour at UCL (University College London), has won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which he shares with Edvard Moser and May-Britt Moser. The Wellcome Trust has supported John's work for more than ten years.

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "I am absolutely thrilled that John O'Keefe, our close colleague at the Wellcome Trust, has won the Nobel Prize. John's work, which the Trust is proud to have supported for over ten years, has transformed our understanding of how the brain represents space. He is a world leader who has inspired a generation of neuroscientists, and whose work as founding Director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre will further enhance our knowledge of neural circuits and how we behave. I know from our many hours of discussions about this hugely exciting project that he is an individual of great humanity, integrity and personal generosity. He is also a truly exceptional scientist and it is an honour for me to have worked closely with him over the last year. On behalf of myself and the Wellcome Trust I am delighted to offer our very warmest congratulations to John."

The Nobel Prize has been awarded for John O'Keefe's discovery in 1971 of 'place cells'. He found that a type of nerve cell in an area of the brain called the hippocampus was always activated when a rat was at a certain place in a room. Other nerve cells were activated when the rat was at other places. O'Keefe concluded that these place cells formed a map of the room, laying the foundation of our understanding of how our brains form a picture of space and how we navigate.

John O'Keefe received his doctoral degree in physiological psychology from McGill University, Canada, in 1967. After that, he moved to the UK for postdoctoral training at UCL, where he remained and was appointed Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in 1987.

The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre is the result of a partnership between the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to establish a new research centre in neural circuits and behaviour at UCL. Sainsbury Wellcome Centre neuroscientists will use state-of-the-art molecular and cellular biology, imaging, electrophysiology and behavioural techniques, supported by computational modelling, to find out how brain circuits process information to create neural representations and guide behaviour. The Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, under the leadership of Professor Peter Dayan, will be a central part of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre.

John O'Keefe is the fourth winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in three years to have strong connections with the Wellcome Trust. Sir John Gurdon (2012) served as Deputy Chairman of the Wellcome Trust, Randy Schekman (2013) is editor-in-chief of eLife, the open-access journal that the Trust helped to found, and James Rothman (2013) is the holder of a Trust Strategic Award.