Professor Tamás Freund (51) is director of the Institute of Experimental Medicine, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and Head of the Department of Neurosciences, Pázmány Péter Catholic University, in Budapest.
He received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest and his D.Sc. from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Dr. Freund trained in neuroanatomy with Péter Somogyi and János Szentágothai as a student, and later as a junior research fellow of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at the Semmelweis Medical School. In 1986 he became a research fellow at the MRC Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit, Oxford University, U.K. He returned to Budapest in 1989 to take the chair of the Functional Neuroanatomy Department of his present institute, where he became director in 2002. Dr. Freund has published over 220 papers, and he is among the top 250 most-cited neuroscientists.
Honours and Prizes
1991 Drs. C. and F. Demuth Swiss Medical Research Foundation Award, Swiss
1991 KRIEG CORTICAL KUDOS Cortical Explorer Award of the Cajal Club, American Association of Anatomists USA
1992 “Swammerdam Lecture”. Brain Reseach Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
1997 Academy Award, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
1998 KRIEG CORTICAL KUDOS Cortical Discoverer Award and the Cajal Medal of the Cajal Club, American Association of Anatomists USA
1998 Dargut and Milena Kemali Foundation Award, FENS Forum, Berlin
1998 Corresponding Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
1999 Ábrahám Ambrus Award, József Attila University, Szeged
2000 Bolyai Prize, Bolyai Prize Foundation, Hungary
2000 Member of Academia Europaea, London
2000 Member of Academia Scientiarum et Artium Europaea
2001 Member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina
2002 ISI’s “Most Cited 250 in Neuroscience”
2003 Honoris Causa Pro Sciencia Gold Medal (Hungarian Academy of Sciences)
2004 Regular Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
2005 Széchenyi Prize, Hungarian Republic
2007 Semmelweis Award, Semmelweis Medical School, Budapest
2007 Scientists of the Year, Award of Science Writers Association of Hungary
2007 Kavli Distinguished International Scientist Lecture, Soc. for Neurosci. USA
2008 Prima Primissima Awards, Hungary: Prima Award in Science Category
2009 Pro Doctorandis Award (Federation of Doctoral Students of Hungary)
He served for five years as chair of the Central and Eastern Europe Regional Committee of the International Brain Research Organization and, until 2006, as president of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies. Now he is president of the Hungarian Neuroscience Society. Dr. Freund won the Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Research Scholar Award three times, and serves on the Editorial Board of 8 international journals.
The research of Tamás Freund has led to major discoveries related to the operational principles of the cerebral cortex, most notably of the hippocampus, in health and disease. He has made significant discoveries regarding the structure and function of cortical microcircuits, with particular attention to their GABAergic inhibitory components, and their relationship to cortical slow and fast oscillations that underlie different stages of memory formation. He has also made an important contribution to our understanding of the mechanism of the generation of theta oscillations in the hippocampus. In a seminal paper he demonstrated that pacemaker cells of the medial septum are GABAergic, inhibitory, and selectively innervate GABAergic interneurons in the hippocampus, thereby synchronizing principal cell activity rhythmically at the theta frequency. This fundamental discovery was followed by a series of papers demonstrating that a similar GABAergic pathway with the same target selectivity extends from the basal forebrain to the neocortex, and that other subcortical pathways use the same strategy. For example, the serotoninergic raphe-to-hippocampus projection also innervates local GABAergic interneurons to achieve control over population discharge patterns in various cortical regions. His group discovered three novel GABAergic cell types of the hippocampus that are specialized to selectively control the activity of other GABAergic interneurons, without innervating the glutamatergic principal cells. His group also demonstrated that CB1 cannabinoid receptors, which are the major targets of the psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant and inhibit neurotransmitter release, are located on a specific subpopulation of GABAergic interneurons; the CCK-containing basket cells. They went on to demonstrate that the endocannabinoid control, which operates as an activity-dependent negative feed-back device, also affects excitatory glutamatergic transmission. The structure and operational principles of this ‘circuit breaker’ have been found to be identical in many regions of the brain, and its malfunctioning is involved in the pathogenesis of several disorders from epilepsy to anxiety. Tamás Freund is considered internationally as a leading scientist, not only in his immediate field of research, but also as a neuroscientist with a creative mind and a broad understanding of brain function. Even though his work is mostly considered basic research, the relevance and input of his discoveries to pharmaceutical and clinical research is immense.
Current research focus
Tamás Freund’s laboratory aims to uncover the mechanisms of how subcortical centres, carrying information about motivation, emotions and autonomic control, influence behaviour-dependent cortical activity patterns involved in memory formation. They use optogenetic stimulation paradigms combined with molecular-level anatomy in transgenic animals to find the direct cellular, network and molecular level correlates of modulation conveyed by behaviourally relevant stimuli, with particular emphasis on the types of interneurons and networks mediating the effect. Unravelling the physiological and structural features of this control mechanism may shed new light on how ascending subcortical pathways evoke characteristic behaviours through cortical microcircuits, and may explain why malfunctioning of this fine-tuning machinery leads to disorders such as anxiety and conditioned fear, thereby paving the way to novel approaches in pharmacotherapy.