John O’Keefe FRS is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London where he works in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology and is currently Director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour.
He is interested in the role of the hippocampal formation in spatial memory and navigation. Using extracellular recording in behaving rats, O’Keefe discovered that hippocampal pyramidal cells respond selectively to an animal’s spatial location. The discovery of ‘place cells’ suggested that this part of the brain might function as a cognitive map, a notion developed extensively by O'Keefe and Nadel in a book published in 1978 (www.cognitive map.net). Strong support for this idea has come from the discovery of other spatial cells in the hippocampal formation, notably head direction, grid and boundary cells, and from deficits in spatial memory and navigation following hippocampal damage. The theory has been applied to the human hippocampus which acts as a more global episodic memory system in addition to its role in spatial memory. O’Keefe has recently turned his attention to the amygdala and its role in active memory for ethologically significant stimuli.
Prof O'Keefe is a Fellow of the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences. He has won numerous awards including most recently the Gruber Neuroscience prize (2008), Royal Society Ferrier Prize Lecture (2013), Horowitz Prize (2013), Kavli Prize in Neuroscience (2014) and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2014).