Sten Grillner studied at the medical faculty in Gothenburg, Sweden and received his PhD in neurophysiology in 1969. He has been a Professor and Director of the Nobel Institute for Neurophysiology at the Karolinska Institute since 1987.
His research has focused on the extraordinary capability of the brain to control movement. Early on, he demonstrated that networks within the mammalian spinal cord can produce the detailed motor pattern of locomotion involving the coordination of hundreds of different muscles. In a paper published in 1987, he and his colleagues went on to unravel the details of a core network of interacting interneurons in the lamprey as a vertebrate model system. The level of detail gained in this work was, and still is, unique in that it allows the observation of changes in behavior caused by changing occurring at the cellular and network level. The cellular basis of locomotion, steering, and posture is now understood in this biological model system, and the basic design appears conserved from cyclostomes to primates.
Grillner is a member of the Academia Europaea, Royal Swedish Academy of Science, and the Nobel Assembly, and has received a number of awards including the Bristol Myers Squibb award in 1993 and the Reeve-Irvine award in 2002.