Tag Archives: The Kavli Insitute for Systems Neuroscience

Christian Doeller wins Radboud Science Award

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Dr. Christian Doeller is head of the Doeller research group at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience

Christian Doeller at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience has been awarded the Radboud Science Award for his research on how the brain links memories of different events to form one coherent memory. To answer this question, he and his team used pictures and videos of the computer game “The Sims” to create stories. They then showed these stories to participants lying in an MRI scanner and recorded brain activity while people remembered events. They found that the brain forms memory networks of related events which are encoded hierarchically in a brain structure called the hippocampus. How these memory hierarchies are organized resembles what is known about how space is encoded in the brain. “Our findings might point towards a more general code for cognition” says Christian Doeller. “Our memories are what defines our personality and improving our understanding of these mechanisms will be crucial in understanding cognition and neural breakdown in neurodegenerative diseases”.

Screenshots from the computer game showed to participants while recording their brain activity in an MRI scanner.

Screenshots from the computer game showed to participants while recording their brain activity in an MRI scanner


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We owe it to society to find the causes of Alzheimer’s disease

31.03.2016 Bent Høie at Kavli 2_corr_crop

The Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie in conversation with the researchers at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience. Photo credits: Frode Nikolaisen / St. Olavs Hospital

The Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie visited the Kavli Institute today. On the agenda was Alzheimer’s disease.

Bent Høie wanted to know if the researchers at the Kavli Institute had new ideas about what causes brain cells to die In Alzheimer’s disease.

– We know a lot about what Alzheimer’s does in animal models, May-Britt Moser explained.
– And we know that the brain structures that are affected early on in these disease models are very similar to those in humans. But we still need to relate these findings to the disease in humans. This is why we are planning to put together a new Center for connecting and translating knowledge between basic research on animal models and clinical research on humans.

– International Alzheimer’s research has been following the wrong track for too long. It has been based on assumptions that have turned out to be misleading. Brain plaques proved to be a red herring. We now have to go back to the drawing board and bring forward new ideas and new concepts, said Menno Witter.

– What we do know about the disease today, is that the very first areas of the brain that are affected include the structures where navigation and memory take place. We at the Kavli Institute have the expertise, the tools, and the technology that is required to understand the functions of these areas, as well as what might go wrong there at the early stages of the disease. We are among the wealthiest countries in the world, Edvard Moser said.
– I feel we are morally obliged to help solve one of the greatest challenges for global health of our time.

From left: Professor Menno Witter, State Secretary Anne Grethe Erlandsen, Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie, Professor Edvard Moser, and Professor May-Britt Moser. Photo credits: Frode Nikolaisen / St. Olavs Hospital

From left: Professor Menno Witter, State Secretary Anne Grethe Erlandsen, Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie, Professor Edvard Moser, and Professor May-Britt Moser. Photo credits: Frode Nikolaisen / St. Olavs Hospital

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Edvard Moser becomes external member of the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology

Edvard Moser is appointed External Scientific Member of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) of Neurobiology in Martinsried near Munich

web page notification of Edvard Mosers appointment to Max PlanckOver the last couple of years Edvard Moser and scientists of the MPI of Neurobiology are closely collaborating. As part of this scientific exchange, Edvard Moser has spent many days and weeks at the Institute in Martinsried. Currently, he and Tobias Bonhoeffer, director at the MPI of Neurobiology, work on imaging the activity of grid cells with the help of 2-Photon-Microscopy. Based on the existing intense collaboration the directors of the Institute proposed to appoint Edvard Moser as External Scientific Member of the MPI of Neurobiology. Edvard Moser has accepted this offer and has thereby also become a Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society. The MPI of Neurobiology has now three External Scientific Members:

  • Prof. Dr. Yves-Alain Barde, Cardiff School of Biosciences (UK)
  • Prof. Dr. Reinhard Hohlfeld, Institute for Clinical Neuroimmunology of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich
  • Prof. Dr. Edvard Moser, Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and Centre for Neural Computation (Trondheim/Norway)

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Mosers, Kavli Institute given multimillion grant to establish a new centre of excellence

The British-born Pauline Braathen has given US $5 million to establish a new centre at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience at NTNU. The Kavli Foundation has matched this donation with NOK 50 million so that the new centre will receive a NOK 100 million grant.

Pauline Braathen

“Through this donation I want to recognize and encourage the world-leading neuroscience research in Trondheim, which is led by the remarkable Nobel Prize winners May-Britt and Edvard Moser,” says Pauline Braathen. Photo: Private

Pauline Braathen was married to Egil Braathens for 46 years. He died in 2009 after a prolonged period of advanced Alzheimer’s disease.

Braathen announced today that she would donate US $5 million to establish The Egil and Pauline Braathen and Fred Kavli Centre for Cortical Microcircuits at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The Centre will be established in cooperation with The Kavli Foundation in the USA.

Responded to Norwegian Prime Minister’s challenge

“Through this donation, I want to recognize and encourage the world-leading neuroscience research in Trondheim, which is led by the remarkable Nobel Prize winners May-Britt and Edvard Moser,” says Mrs. Braathen. “At the same time I wish to honour my deceased husband, Egil Braathen, who had a lot to be grateful to St. Olavs Hospital for. The research led by May-Britt and Edvard Moser has great importance for a world in need of increased knowledge about how the brain works, in order to prevent and cure brain-related diseases and illnesses. I believe that this unique combination of research and clinical excellence has the qualities we need to find the answers to the Alzheimer’s mystery. It is therefore with a great joy that I and some of Egil’s heirs in Norway take action in accordance with Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s call to give money to this purpose.”

“The unknown billionaire”

Egil Braathen was an extremely successful property developer who became one of Norway’s richest men, and has been referred to as “the unknown billionaire”. He created a large property development business in Oslo before he left Norway with his British wife in the mid-1980s.

He continued his investments abroad and left behind a substantial fortune, a small part of which went to his wife Pauline, who has previously given substantial grants to medical purposes. Braathen is donating the remaining amount of her inheritance to the Trondheim research centre. “I would truly have wished it to be a much larger contribution, matching that in the United States,” Mrs. Braathen says, “but my inheritance was limited to a small percentage of the considerable amount of wealth that my husband created during our years in Norway and the United States.”

Joint Grant

Mrs. Braathen is joined in making this gift by three of her late husband’s nephew and nieces, who were also named in his will. They are making their own contribution of US $1 million in lasting memory of their uncle. The total donation of US $6 million (approximately NOK 50 million ) is being made to the Trondheim Foundation for Scientific Research, which manages the funds and contributes annual funding to the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience at NTNU.

Will triple Foundation capital fund

The new Egil & Pauline Braathen and Fred Kavli Centre for Cortical Microcircuits will be a central part of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, directed by May-Britt and Edvard Moser.  The grant donation of US $6 million will be matched with a corresponding grant of US $6 million from the Kavli Foundation in the USA, so that the total grant to the Foundation in Trondheim is approximately NOK 100 million. This will triple the Foundation’s existing capital fund.

By building up the Foundation’s capital in Trondheim, these gifts will produce a yearly return that will give lasting contributions to brain research.  The payout by the Foundation from the NOK 100 million gift will result in a yearly research grant of NOK 5 million to the new Centre and to the Kavli Institute.  The money will also be matched with a grant of 25 per cent through a government fund called the “gaveforsterkningsordningen” (“gift enhancement arrangement”).

“My husband was so clever and never stopped working, so it was important for me to make a gift in a way that he would have approved,” Mrs. Braathen said. “Our donation means more funds are dedicated to this fantastic cause, and that the research can continue into the future. We will beat these debilitating diseases together by supporting Norway’s best researchers.”

A gift to her husband’s home country

Pauline og Egil Braathen

“I have a great love for Norway and I am very pleased at last to be able to contribute directly to the creative genius of its medical researchers and its outstanding research potential,” says Pauline Braathen, shown here with her late husband, Egil Braathen. Photo: Private

Mrs. Braathen recently dedicated the Egil and Pauline Braathen Centre at the Cleveland Clinic in Florida, where she and Egil had a home, and to which she gave more than US $30 million. She said that she felt it was also very important and appropriate to celebrate her late husband’s success in his home country.

“I have a personal and special respect and affection for the University Hospital in Trondheim, because I know that Egil owes the continuance of his life to a team of doctors who, at my request, came from Trondheim to Oslo in 1995 to perform a new surgical procedure when all others could not,” Mrs. Braathen said. The new centre will operate within the framework of the integrated university hospital, and will carry out brain research and cooperate with St. Olavs Hospital.

“I have a great love for Norway and I am very pleased at last to be able to contribute directly to the creative genius of its medical researchers and its outstanding research potential. It is hard to imagine a better purpose than to strengthen an international leading research environment like the Moser’s institute, which has shown such promising results in its research on the mysteries of the brain, manifested by the awarding of the Nobel Prize to May-Britt and Edvard Moser,” Mrs. Braathen said.

One of the largest philanthropic grants in Trøndelag

Robert W. Conn, President and CEO of The Kavli Foundation, said “We want to thank Mrs. Braathen and Egil Braathen’s nephew and nieces for their very generous gifts. Having the new centre named for her, her late husband Egil Braathen and Fred Kavli honours Mrs. Braathen and joins the memory of two remarkable men from Norway. The Kavli Foundation’s new gift adds to its original gift of $7.5 million, given in 2007 to establish the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience. Now, these additional new gifts will further strengthen the scientific efforts to understand the human brain and develop treatments and cures for the major diseases that affect the mind.”

The Centre’s objectives

The Centre will operate within the framework of the integrated university hospital, and will carry out brain research and cooperate with St. Olavs Hospital. One of several projects aims to study cellular and neural-network changes in early stage Alzheimer’s disease. This project will be conducted alongside a substantial body of basic research which draws on the strengths of the researchers at the Centre, and which is necessary for understanding the mechanisms and consequences of early-stage Alzheimer-related changes in the brain.

Scientists call the co-operation between nerve cells in the cerebral cortex cortical microcircuits. These microcircuits are the basis for all cognitive functions. The greatest advances in neuroscience are now being made in this area, and this is also where May-Britt and Edvard Moser and their research colleagues have made great contributions.

By conducting research on cortical microcircuits, the Centre must necessarily take a long-term perspective on its work. The cross-disciplinary nature of research on cortical microcircuits also means different research groups at the Centre will be involved in the effort, which also offers an opportunity for the Centre to grow and expand.

A basic understanding of how the brain works is needed to develop diagnostics and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. But alone, it is not enough, which is why the establishment of the Egil & Pauline Braathen and Fred Kavli Centre for Cortical Microcircuits will speed up research in the direction of diagnostics and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Yasser Roudi receives the 2015 Eric Kandel Young Neuroscientists Prize

The Hertie Foundation in collaboration with the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) has awarded the 2015 Eric Kandel Young Neuroscientists Prize to the physicist and neuroscientist Yasser Roudi from the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and Centre for Neural Computation, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway.

Yasser Roudi receives Eric Kandel Prize
The award which is named after the 2000 Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel “recognizes the work of outstanding young scientists in the field of neuroscience and helps advance their careers as researchers” and according to FENS website “is the most prestigious award for the next generation of top neuroscientists in Europe.” Prof. Roudi has been awarded the prize “for his contributions to the applications of statistical physics to network reconstruction and the understanding of information processing in neuronal networks.”

A major theme of Prof. Roudi’s research is understanding the computational mechanisms and algorithms involved in statistical inference and learning, and the possible implementation of such mechanisms in neural networks. Recently, in collaboration with Profs Edvard and May-Britt Moser, who won the Nobel prize in Physiology and Medicine this year, he has made important contributions to our understanding of the network mechanisms underlying the mammalian spatial navigation and memory system. According to Prof. Edvard Moser, “Yasser is one of very very few young researchers who is internationally recognized and active in both the neuroscience and the theoretical physics communities. By keeping a foot in both camps, he contributes significantly to the interaction between physics and neuroscience.” Prof. May-Britt Moser says that “I am impressed by Yasser’s ability to explain brain computation by fundamental laws of physics that may apply as well to non-living matter as to the nervous system.”

Yasser who is now 33 studied Physics at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, obtained his PhD from SISSA, Trieste in 2005 and before becoming a professor at NTNU, has worked at Nordita, The Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Gatsby Unit, UCL, one of the leading centers for computational neuroscience and machine learning in the world. His previous awards include the Bogue Research Fellowship (UCL), the Burgen Scholarship from Academea Europea, the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters young investigators award and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters’ Nansen prize for young scientists. Prof. Roudi is also a Corresponding Fellow at Nordita and a Research Staff Member of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Italy.

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Brain signals contain the code for your next move

Is it possible to tap into the signalling in the brain to figure out where you will go next? Hiroshi Ito, a researcher at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), can now say yes. Ito has just published a description of how this happens in this week’s edition of Nature.

Researcher Hiroshi Ito

Researcher Hiroshi Ito

Ito and his colleagues, including his supervisors, 2014 Nobel Laureates May-Britt and Edvard Moser, sampled a specific neural pathway to figure out if it is the location of the mechanism that enables animals to code their plan to get from one place to another. Their study confirms that this pathway, the medial prefrontal cortex via a thalamic nucleus to the hippocampus, does.

The code that predicts behaviour

The researchers designed a study that would help them better understand how this signalling pathway works. They trained rats to run in an alternating fashion in a continuous T-maze that actually looks more like the infinity sign with a wide waist, or stem.

“We learned that the differential strength of firing of specific neurons accurately predicts the trajectory the animal will chose,” Ito said.

Alternating continuous T-Maze

Rat in alternating continuous T-maze

While the rats ran the maze, electrophysiological recordings were made from prefrontal cortex, thalamus and hippocampus. The researchers analysed the activity of neurons while the rat was on the stem of the maze, where it had to decide whether to go left or right at the upcoming junction.

See video of rat in T-maze
Hear May-Britt Moser explain this during her Nobel Lecture – on Soundcloud 
May-Britt Moser’s Nobel Lecture

The decision pathway

Researchers know there are pathways from the prefrontal cortex via the thalamus to the CA1 area of the hippocampus. However, there is no link to the CA3 area immediately adjacent to CA1 (which is also in the hippocampus). Given this, the researchers first checked to see if they could detect a difference in the coding between the two areas that would reflect the trajectory the rat would subsequently choose. There was a clear difference. The CA1 showed far more coding for any upcoming choice than the CA3.

The code was visible in the intensity of firing, although not in which cell fired, or where. To understand how this works, think of a choir all singing the same song, but where different voices are louder at the same point in the song during different performances. The words, melody, and singers are the same, but the change in the volume of each voice changes the performance. Since they are familiar with “the choir”, the researchers looked for the conductor, which they found in the frontal cortex.

Researchers have known that the code for trajectory choice could be found in CA1. The researchers at the Kavli Institute showed that a similar code is present in nucleus reuniens (NR) in the thalamus as well as anterior cingulate (AC) and prelimbic cortex (PC), both in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). The researchers continued to find out where the signals arise, and tested the contribution of the mPFC-NR pathway.  The researchers were able to establish that without the input from mPFC through NR, the CA1 also loses its code for upcoming choice of trajectory. They were able to confirm this by blocking signalling in the NR, using two different approaches. This shows that the code needs mPFC and NR, much like a choir needs its conductor.

Professor May-Britt Moser

Professor May-Britt Moser

“Planning our movement to a desired location requires more than a map of where we are,” Professor May-Britt Moser says. “We must have a sense of both where we are at the moment, and where we want to go at the same time. It seems that the cells involved in navigation use both internal and external clues to pinpoint exact locations, and on top of the firing pattern there is a code of differential firing intensity that contains information on the next move.”

Moser explains that this intensity pattern appears to be under the guidance of the prefrontal cortex, a brain area known in primates for decision making and executive function.

“We believe these findings collectively suggest that the new pathway in charge of intended movement is crucial for animals to choose their actions to a desired place in a map,” Moser said.  “The data also provide evidence for a role of the thalamus in long-range communication between cortical regions.”

The article in Nature: A prefrontal-thalamo-hippocampal circuit for goal-directed spatial coding

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Edvard Moser met with EC President Juncker – gave advice on research funding.

Professor and Director of Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience Edvard Moser

Professor and Director of Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience Edvard Moser

European  Commission  President  Jean-Claude  Juncker  today  hosted  a  working lunch  for  a  group  of  Nobel Laureates. Sir  Paul  Nurse, Jules  Hoffmann,  Serge  Haroche,  Jean  Tirole  and  Edvard  Moser, and  Wolf-prize laureate László  Lovász  were  joined  by  Vice-President  Jyrki  Katainen,  responsible  for Jobs,  Growth,  Investment  and  Competitiveness;  and  Commissioner  Moedas, responsible for Research, Science and Innovation.

They exchanged views on the proposed European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), and proposed budget cuts for Horizon2020. The laureates were there to defend the ERC budget, hoping to avoid a proposed 221 million Euro cut in basic research funding.

Edvard Moser is optimistic after the meeting.
–My impression is that the Commission understands the importance of basic research and that they will act on our advice and spare the ERC from significant budget cuts, Moser says.

The  President  also endorsed  Commissioner Moedas’  recommendation  to  set  up  a  mechanism  for  high  quality,  timely, independent  scientific  advice.  The  future mechanism  will draw  on  the  wide  range of  scientific  expertise  in  Europe  through  a  close  relationship  with  national academies  and  other  bodies,  coordinated  by  a  High-Level  Group  of  Independent Scientists.

This is a long awaited initiative for scientists and the world of research. See news story in Sciencemag.


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Emre Yaksi was chosen for FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence.

Emre Yaksi

Emre Yaksi

FENS (The Federation of European Neuroscience Societies) and The Kavli Foundation have announced the first FENS-Kavli Scholars – 20 young European neurosciencists chosen for the excellence of their research, as well as promise to be among the field’s newest generation of extraordinary pioneers. Emre Yaksi, a faculty member at CNC/Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience, was one of them.

Scholars chosen for FENS Kavli network

The 20 Scholars chosen for FENS Kavli network

With the announcement, the scholars become the first members of the FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence. Launched in 2014, the FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence aims to strengthen ties between emerging leaders in European science, to establish links between the generation of emerging group leaders and senior scientists, and to foster on-going scientific excellence in Europe. The scholars will be provided with opportunities to meet with both young and senior leaders in neuroscience to encourage new ideas and international collaborations.

“The FENS-Kavli Scholars embody the best of modern neuroscience, representing outstanding young neuroscientists with diverse and multidisciplinary backgrounds,” as both Monica Di Luca and Marian Joëls, current and past President of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, pointed out. “Representing a vast geographical diversity and careers in multiple countries across Europe and beyond, this unique Network of Excellence reflects shared values based on openness, collaboration and creativity.”

“The FENS-Kavli Scholars bring a record of outstanding scientific accomplishments to the network that will surely stimulate networking, discussion and interaction at the highest possible level among the scholars,” said Miyoung Chun, Executive Vice President of Science Programs, The Kavli Foundation.

For further information, please refer to the website of the Kavli Foundation.

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Mosers elected members of American Philosophical Society

May-Britt and Edvard Moser

May-Britt and Edvard Moser. Photo: Geir Mogen / NTNU

May-Britt and Edvard Moser from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim were elected members of the American Philosophical Society at the society’s semiannual meeting in Philadelphia this weekend.

The APS is the oldest “learned society” in the United States, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743. The Society promotes useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities through excellence in scholarly research, professional meetings, publications, library resources, and community outreach.

Membership in the APS is entirely honorary and reflects extraordinary accomplishments in all fields of intellectual endeavor. Members are nominated and elected by their peers in the Society.

The Mosers, both neuroscientists, were recipients of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. They have previously been honored by the APS with the 2014 Karl Spencer Lashley Award, “in recognition of their discovery of grid cells in the entorhinal cortex, and their pioneering physiological studies of the hippocampus, which have transformed ounderstanding of the neural computations underlying spatial memory.” Professor Edvard Moser leads the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and May-Britt Moser is Director of the Centre for Neural Computation.

The society elects members in five classes; mathematical and physical sciences, biological sciences, social sciences, humanities and the arts, professions, leaders in public and private affairs.

For each of the five classes, a handful of American members are elected, and one or two international members. May-Britt and Edvard Moser were the only two international members elected to the Biological Sciences class. Among the Moser’s fellow new international members are Thomas Piketty, Professor of Economics, Paris School of Economics, and Nicholas Stern, President of the British Academy and I G Patel Professor of Economics, Chair, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics, both of whom were elected to the Social Sciences class.

Nobel Laureate and NTNU alumnus Lars Onsager was elected a member of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences class in 1959.

A full list of newly elected and former members can be found at http://www.amphilsoc.org/

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Reality is distorted in brain’s maps

The brain’s GPS would be worthless if it simply contained maps of our surroundings that were not aligned to the real world. But we now know how this is done.

Artistic description of how shearing affect gridcells

‘Right frame of mind’
Conceptual interpretation of results. The internal grid map of space must be anchored to the external geometry of the world. Forces act on the pattern (orange lines) to produce a final grid geometry that is most asymmetric in relation to the environment.

The way that the brain’s internal maps are linked and anchored to the external world has been a mystery for a decade, ever since 2014 Nobel Laureates May-Britt and Edvard Moser discovered grid cells, the key reference system of our brain’s spatial navigation system. Now, researchers at the Mosers’ Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience believe they have solved this mystery. The results are published in this week’s edition of Nature.

To understand the finding, think of regular maps and how they relate to your surroundings. When we go hiking and orient ourselves with a map and compass, we align the map using the north arrow on the compass and match it to the longitude lines on the map, to align the map with the terrain and make sure we find our way (unless we have a GPS that does the work for us).

We know our brains contain a number of internal maps, all mapped onto the surroundings, ready to be pulled up to guide us in the right direction. These grid maps come in different sizes and resolutions, but until now they have offered few clues as to how they are anchored to the surroundings.

The findings published in Nature this week explain the surprising twist the brain uses to align its internal maps.

Continue reading

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