Péter Somogyi (61) is Director of the Medical Research Council Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit, and ad hominem Professor of Neurobiology at the University Department of Pharmacology, Oxford.
He was born in Hungary. He graduated in biology and received his Ph.D. in cell biology at the Eötvös Lorànd University, Budapest, Hungary. His research training included neurocytology with Istvan Benedeczky and neuroanatomy with Janos Szentagothai at the Semmelweis Medical School, Budapest, biochemistry with A. David Smith and Ian Chubb at the University of Oxford, and immunocytochemistry with Claudio Cuello at Oxford and a postdoctoral fellowship with Ian Chubb at Flinders Medical Centre, South Australia. In 1985 he was invited to become Associate, later Co-Director of the Medical Research Council Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit at the University Department of Pharmacology, Oxford. He became Director from October 1998.
Membership of Learned Societies
Named and Honorary Lectures
Péter Somogyi’s fundamental and pioneering work on the chemical identification of neuronal types and localization of signalling molecules in identified microcircuits is a key pillar of contemporary neuroscience. Péter Somogyi has pioneered the identification of individual neurons by defining their synaptic relationships, molecular composition, synaptic effects and temporal dynamics recorded both in vitro and in vivo. He discovered and defined many neurons and their place in synaptic circuits of the neocortex, the hippocampus, the cerebellum and the basal ganglia. His work has led to the molecular dissection of synaptic junctions through the quantitative, high-resolution electron microscopic localization of neurotransmitter receptors; he discovered the perisynaptic domain as a specific molecular assembly and the pre- and postsynaptic compartmentalization of distinct receptor types in or outside the synaptic junction. His long-term vision that explanations of normal and pathological events in the brain can only come from the rigorous definition of the neuronal circuits has become widely recognized. Somogyi has delineated a basic cortical circuit from molecular composition through cell types to the dynamic behaviour of neuronal networks. Many of the approaches that he introduced to neuroscience have been adopted widely. His pupils lead institutions and research programmes around the world. Outstanding scientists in the interdisciplinary Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit that he leads apply his approaches to different systems affected in diseases of the brain. Recently, he and his colleagues discovered an unsuspected temporal division of labour amongst inhibitory interneurons in the hippocampal formation and on the way recognised several novel cell types. In general, Somogyi’s work has demonstrated how a co-operative division of labour in time and space between distinct identified neurons underlies the processing power of the cortex. Somogyi’s conceptual framework and multidisciplinary approaches to the study of the cerebral cortex leads to explanations of chronocircuitry, a term he coined to reflect the unity of time and space in the brain.
Current research focus
The overall aim of Péter Somogyi’s laboratory is to define how the activity of neuronal assemblies is co-ordinated and emerges from the co-operative interactions of rigorously defined neuronal circuits in the cerebral cortex, particularly in the hippocampus. Specific circuits are defined and dissected in terms of their constituent cell types, functional synaptic relationships and molecular machinery mediating the interactions. The role of selected interactions is established in the functional behaviour of the cortical network. Based on the knowledge gained about the molecular composition and connections of identified neurones, specific cell types are targeted in transgenic animals using a novel strategy for the selective modulation of their activity. This could lead to the determination of their functional contribution to the cortical network. The results explain cortical operations and identify links for the treatment of diseases.