Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience
How do we know where we are, where we have been and where we are going? Such are the questions that the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim aims to answer. The Institute seeks to unlock the secrets of memory by studying the neural microcircuits and networks in the hippocampus and associated areas of the brain, where memory is encoded, stored and retrieved. It focuses in particular on the memory of place and direction that underlies our spatial navigation skills.
Founded in August 2007, Kavli at NTNU is able to draw on groundbreaking research that is well under way at its host institution, NTNU. It is closely affiliated with the university’s Centre for the Biology of Memory (CBM), where scientists in 2005 discovered "grid cells" — neurons in the entorhinal cortex that fire in patterns related to an animal’s specific location. The network of these brain cells may make up the neurological “map” that enables us to remember locations and that guides us through our surroundings.
Complementing the shorter-term projects at CBM, the Kavli Institute is pursuing questions that demand a longer experimental time frame. It is using the full range of research methods, including genetic tools and computational analysis, to understand how each intermingled cell type functions in a neural network. It also looks beyond grid cells and spatial navigation with the ultimate aim of giving scientists a window into the general operating principles of the mammalian cortex – the mechanics of thought.
Heading the Institute is Edvard Moser, a professor at NTNU and co-director, with his wife Prof. May-Britt Moser, of the CBM. The Mosers and NTNU Professor Menno Witter are currently the Institute’s three dedicated principal investigators. NTNU also plans to add two new professorships designed to bridge research at the institute with that of other NTNU departments. These positions will be held by internationally recognized scientists in the areas of systems-oriented molecular neuroscience and computational neuroscience.
The ultimate goal of the Institute is to improve life and health by advancing the science of human cognition. Already, the work of its principal scientists has revised once-established views of how the brain calculates position; further research along this path could lead to the development of tools to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease.