Nobel Prize Laureates

Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience

Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience

Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience (KISN)

Is a leading research institute founded by Nobel Laureates May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser in 1996 to investigate the emergence of higher brain functions.

The neuroscience research institute now comprises three research centres:

  • Centre for Neural Computation (CNC)
  • Egil and Pauline Braathen and Fred Kavli Centre for Cortical Microcircuits (BKC)
  • K. G. Jebsen Centre for Alzheimer’s Disease (JCA)

The Kavli Institute is an interdisciplinary village of experts with the common desire to understand how complex information is encoded in high-level neural networks and how complex behaviours arise from these codes and systems.

The institute staff is organized in eleven work units: Ten research groups with associated teams of scientists, students and supporting staff, and one central support group with veterinary, technical, communication and administrative staff.

The department is responsible for an international Master's degree programme in Neuroscience, and has joint responsibility for the PhD programme in Medicine and Health Sciences at NTNU, and The Norwegian Research School in Neuroscience (NRSN) coordinated by KISN and funded by the Research Council of Norway.

The Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience is a Centre of Excellence (CoE) since 2002, a Kavli Foundation Institute since 2007, a Braathen-Kavli Centre since 2015, a department at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) since 2017, and a K. G. Jebsen Centre since 2020.


The normal human brain is made up of about 100 billion nerve cells (neurons). Each nerve cell can have an average of approximately 10-20,000 points of contact with other nerve cells. These contact points are called synapses, which is where the storage of memories takes place.

Researchers at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience explore the brain's functioning by detecting and analysing the electrical signals in the brain, primarily in the regions of the brain called the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus. The hippocamus is an older part of the cerebral cortex and has a central role in the functioning of human and animal memory, while the entorhinal cortex contains grid cells, border cells, direction cells, and speed cells that together give the brain the ability to make highly advanced maps.

Since the centre’s inception, Kavli researchers have used laboratory rats as study animals. In the experiments, rats run around in boxes and corridors chasing treats. Simultaneously, very thin electrodes inserted into their brains enable researchers to detect their brain activity. The electrodes, placed in the space between the brain cells, are so sensitive that they distinguish signals from individual neurons in the network. Today KISN research groups study higher brain functions in rats, mice, zebrafish and humans using experimental and theoretical approaches.







Bjarne Foss, chairman
Vice-rector Research, NTNU

Siri Forsmo
Dean Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences

Cynthia Friend
Kavli Foundation

Chris Martin
Kavli Foundation

Robert Clifford
Pauline Braathen

Grethe Aasved
Director St.Olav’s Hospital

Stig Slørdahl
Director Central Norway Regional Health Authority

Jan Morten Dyrstad
Chairman of the Board of Directors of Trondheim Foundation for Science Research (TFSR)

Tore O. Sandvik
External representative

Edvard Moser
Secretary, Professor, Kavli Institute, NTNU

May-Britt Moser
Secretary, Professor, Kavli Institute, NTNU

Tobias Bonfoeffer

Erin Schuman

Valentina Emiliani

Michael Haussner

Björn Gustafsson

Ivar Prydz Gladhaug

Per Bakke


Karen Duff

Tara Spires-Jones

Emrah Düzel

Henrik Zetterberg

Bjørn Gustafsson

Grethe Aasved
Director St.Olav’s Hospital

Edvard Moser
Professor, Kavli Institute, NTNU

Stig Slørdahl
Director Central Norway Regional Health Authority

Anne Rita Øksengård

Kavli faculty, selected scientific publications and historic timeline

Kavli faculty, selected scientific publications and historic timeline


Photo of May-Britt and Edvard Moser
Moser Group:

Space and memory
Photo of Menno Witter
Witter Group:

Functional neuranatomy
Photo of Clifford Kentros
Kentros Group:

Transgenic investigation of neural circuits
Photo og Yasser Roudi
Roudi Group:

SPINOr: Stat.Phys. of Inference and Network Organizaton


Photo of Jonathan Whitlock
Whitlock Group:

Cognitive motor function
Photo of Yaksi Emre
Yaksi Group:

Sensory computations
Photo: Maryam Ziaei
Ziaei Group:

Aging Neuroscience
Photo of Tobias Navarro Schröder
Navarro Schröder Group
Vision and navigation
Photo of Giulia Quattrocolo
Quattrocolo Group: 

Circuit development
Photo of Maximiliano Jose Nigro
Nigro Group
Perception and cognition
Illustration support group
Support Group:

Admin & Tech

We have chosen to highlight four experimental publication and a joint theoretical paper involving all research groups present at the Centre per 2017. All work on these papers is performed at Centre for Neural Computation (CNC), with CNC funding. All authors are, or have been, members of CNC.

Experimental papers:

Shearing-induced asymmetry in entorhinal grid cells.

Stensola T, Stensola H, Moser M-B, Moser EI (2015). Nature, 518, 207-212 (Article).

This paper provides fundamental information about how grid patterns interact with geometric reference boundaries of the local environment.  We show that the axes of the grid are offset from the walls of the test environment by an angle that minimizes symmetry with the borders of the enclosure. This rotational offset is invariably accompanied by an elliptic distortion of the grid pattern. Reversing the ellipticity analytically by a shearing transformation removed the angular offset, suggesting, together with the near absence of rotation in novel environments, that rotation emerges through non-coaxial strain as a function of experience. The systematic relationship between rotation and distortion points to shear forces arising from anchoring to specific geometric reference axes as a major element of the mechanism for alignment of grid patterns to the external world.

A prefrontal-thalamo-hippocampal circuit for goal-directed spatial coding.

Ito HT, Zhang S-J, Witter MP, Moser EI, Moser M-B (2015). Nature, 522, 50-55 (Article).

Hippocampal place cells provide accurate information about the animal’s current location but it has remained unclear how the place-cell map is used to navigate from the current position to a goal location elsewhere in the environment. This study identifies a prefrontal-thalamic circuit required for hippocampal representation of routes or trajectories through the environment. Trajectory-dependent firing was observed in cells in medial prefrontal cortex, nucleus reuniens of the midline thalamus, and CA1 of the hippocampus. Silencing the nucleus reuniens substantially reduced trajectory-dependent firing in CA1, suggesting that projections from medial prefrontal cortex, via the nucleus reuniens, are crucial for representation of the future path during goal-directed behavior. The findings point to the thalamus as a key node in networks for long-range communication between cortical regions involved in navigation. Like the early work on grid cells, the study also illustrates the power of combining neuroanatomy (Witter group) with multi-site neurophysiological recordings (Moser group).

Speed cells in medial entorhinal cortex.

Kropff E, Carmichael JE, Moser M-B, Moser EI (2015).  Nature, 523, 419-424 (Article).

When animals move, activity is translated between grid cells in accordance with the animal’s displacement in the environment. For this translation to occur, grid cells must have continuous access to information about the animal’s instantaneous running speed. Until 2015, a powerful speed signal had not been identified, however. The present study reports the discovery of cells that provide this information. We shows that running speed is represented in the firing rate of a ubiquitous but functionally dedicated population of medial entorhinal neurons distinct from other cell populations of the local circuit, such as grid, head direction and border cells. These speed cells are characterized by a context-invariant positive linear response to running speed. The findings point to speed cells as a fundamental component of the dynamic representation of self-location in the medial entorhinal cortex. 

Stellate cells drive maturation of the entorhinal-hippocampal circuit.

Donato, F., Jacobsen, R.I., Moser, M.-B., Moser, E.I. (2017).  Science, (Article).

To determine how the entorhinal-hippocampal space network is set up during early postnatal development, we monitored markers of structural maturation in developing mice, both in naïve animals and after temporally restricted pharmacogenetic silencing of specific cell populations. We found that entorhinal stellate cells provide an activity-dependent instructive signal that drives postnatal maturation sequentially and unidirectionally through the intrinsic circuits of the entorhinal-hippocampal network. The findings raise the possibility that a small number of autonomously developing neuronal populations operate as intrinsic drivers of maturation across widespread regions of cortex. The study is under final revision for Science (third revision) and we expect it to be published in March-April 2017. The findings open an entirely new research field – the development of functional circuits in the non-sensory cortices. Understanding development of these circuits may put us on the track of how cortical circuits are wired in adult brains and how they give rise to neural representations.

Theoretical paper:

Grid cells and cortical representation.

Moser EI, Roudi Y, Witter MP, Kentros C, Bonhoeffer T, Moser M-B (2014).  Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 15, 466-481.

We have chosen to highlight one theoretical paper resulting from collective discussions among the five group leaders working at CNC at the time of writing (2013-2014), as well as one external member of the Centre. The study uses grid cells to comprehend principles of neural computation in the cortex. We use grid cells as a gateway to understand network computation at a stage of cortical processing in which firing patterns are shaped not primarily by incoming sensory signals but to a large extent by the intrinsic properties of the local circuit. The paper explains how grid pattern may arise out of attractor properties of entorhinal circuits, as well as competitive learning mechanisms in individual cells. Challenges of existing computational models are discussed in depth, and critical avenues for future exploration are identified. The study is a direct outcome of the interactive trans-disciplinary nature of the CNC environment.

Complete list of publications

For a complete list of publications and output from Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience please visit PubMed at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/ and search the following names: Moser MB, Moser EI, Witter MP, Kentros CG, Roudi Y, Whitlock J, Yaksi E, and Doeller CF. It would also be possible to search in the same database for “Centre for Neural Computation” AND “Kavli”.

  • 1996: Research group with two employees: May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser. Their first research lab at NTNU is built from a bomb shelter. Their research focus is navigation and memory in the brain.
  • 2002: Centre for the Biology of Memory is established as part of a new Centre of Excellence scheme by the Research Council of Norway (funding period: 2002-2012).
  • 2005: International breakthrough: the discovery of grid cells.
  • 2007: Principal investigator Menno Witter starts up new research group at Kavli.
  • 2007: The research centre becomes a Kavli institute – the fifteenth in the world, the fourth within neuroscience, the third in Europe, the first and only in Norway.
  • 2010: Principal investigator Yasser Roudi starts up new research group at Kavli.
  • 2011: The Kavli Institute becomes part of NORBRAIN, with Edvard Moser as the national project leader. NORBRAIN is one of the world’s largest infrastructures for research on complex mental functions and dysfunctions, like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
  • 2012: The Kavli Institute is awarded a second Centre of Excellence, the Centre for Neural Computation is established (funding period: 2012-2022).
  • Principal investigator Jonathan Whitlock starts up new research group at Kavli.
  • 2013: Principal investigator Clifford Kentros starts up new research group at Kavli.
  • 2014: May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser receives the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine together with John O’Keefe for their discovery of the brain’s navigation system.
  • 2014: Principal investigator Emre Yaksi starts up new research group at Kavli.
  • 2015: Creation of Egil and Pauline Braathen and Fred Kavli Centre for Cortical Microcircuits.
  • 2016: Principal investigator Christian Doeller starts up new research group at Kavli.
  • 2017: The Starmus IV festival is arranged in Trondheim
  • 2018: May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser awarded the Grand Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, in recognition of their research, their social involvement, and their commitment to animal welfare in research.
  • 2018: How your brain experiences time: Researchers at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience discovers a network of brain cells that express our sense of time within experiences and memories.
  • 2018: The Kavli Institute is an internationally leading centre of competence for brain research. The Institute hosts seven research groups, eight principal investigators, 100+ employees and an international student environment.
  • 2020: Opening of K.G. Jebsen Centre for Alzheimer's Disease. Principal investigators Tobias Navarro Schröder, Giulia Quattrocolo og Maximiliano Jose Nigro starts up new research groups at Kavli.
  • 2021: Principal investigator Mariam Ziaei starts up new research group at Kavli.

Historic timeline

Historic timeline

Kavli Neuroscience Institutes

Kavli Neuroscience Institutes