Professor Zoltán Molnár

Professor Zoltán Molnár

Tutorial Fellow in Human Anatomy

Biography

I earned my MD (summa cum laude) at the Albert Szent-Györgyi Medical University, Szeged, Hungary where I started my residency in Neurological Surgery in the institute of Professor Mihaly Bodosi until I moved to Oxford in 1989. I received my DPhil at the University Laboratory of Physiology in the laboratory of Professor Sir Colin Blakemore FRS studying the “Multiple mechanisms in the establishment of thalamocortical innervation” (thesis awarded the Biennial Rolleston Memorial Prize of Oxford and Cambridge Universities for 1994–1995). I continued my work on cerebral cortical development at Oxford as an MRC training fellow and Junior Research Fellow at Merton College. I also investigated thalamocortical development working at the Institut de Biologie Cellulaire et de Morphologie, Université de Lausanne, Switzerland, and at Kyoto Prefectural School of Medicine, Japan.  

I was appointed to a University Lecturer (Assistant Professor) position at the Department of Human Anatomy and Genetics associated with a Tutorship at St John's College, Oxford from 2000. I was awarded the title Professor of Developmental Neuroscience in 2007.

I am Visitor at the History of Science Museum, Oxford and I served as a member of the FENS History Committee in the past. Currently I am the Senior (Honorary) Treasurer of Oxford University Lawn Tennis Club (http://www.oultc.org/).

Previous positions held at St John's College: Vice President (2013–2014); Dean for Degrees (2001–2006)

Teaching

I work in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics where I am the Professor of Developmental Neuroscience. My departmental teaching contributes to the pre-clinical training of medical students. I give lectures and seminars in the 1st BM course mainly in the field of Neurosciences; on the anatomy and development of the human central nervous system. I organize the Neuroanatomy practical classes for 2nd year medical students and contribute with more specialized lectures and seminars for the FHS (3rd year medical students) and MSc Degree in Neuroscience Course. I also teach on the Principles of Clinical Anatomy Course for 3rd year medics. My college tutorial teaching includes most aspects of the human gross anatomy, histology, endocrinology and embryology.

I am very passionate about medical education. Through my lectures, tutorials and seminars
(150/year over 20 years) I have inspired generations of medical students at Oxford. I have been nominated by students for teaching awards in the past. I am the founding senior member of the University of Oxford Cortex Club. I established the History of Medical Sciences Website (https://history.medsci.ox.ac.uk/). 

Research Interests

I study the development and evolution of the mammalian cerebral cortex. I am interested in the mechanisms of cerebral cortical neurogenesis, migration and circuit assembly, with the goal of translating these mechanisms into further understanding of human developmental conditions, such as childhood epilepsy, dyslexia, autism and schizophrenia.

My laboratory pioneered the study of the earliest transient connectivity during cerebral cortical development. I argued that the unique set of inputs and outputs plays a fundamental role in shaping the early cortical specialisation and further development. I proposed that the input to the cerebral cortex confronts corticofugal fibres at the pallial-subpallial boundary and grows over the corticofugal scaffold. My detailed studies of thalamocortical developmental abnormalities in various mutant mice provided strong support for this hypothesis.

My laboratory provided explanations for human clinical conditions by identifying key cortical developmental mechanisms, such as neurogenesis and migration. My laboratory demonstrated that developmental gene expression in the early-generated and largely transient cortical subplate neurons overlaps significantly with gene networks that have been specifically linked to the pathogenesis of schizophrenia and autism. 

My laboratory has made contributions to the understanding of brain evolution. With comparisons in metatherian and eutherian mammals I established that the subventricular zone, with its intermediate progenitors, is a key developmental milestone in the formation of a six-layered mammalian neocortex. My laboratory has identified cortical progenitors whose neurogenesis is delayed, and which contribute only to callosally-projecting upper cortical layers. Remarkably, these progenitors are not present in the avian brain. My laboratory identified transcriptomic networks in mammalian and avian brain and found evidence of thalamic recipient cells in cortical layer 4 in mammals and the nidopallium in birds: both express similar gene networks, in spite of having different embryonic origin. 

Visit my departmental research group page for further information at: http://www.dpag.ox.ac.uk/research/molnar-group

What inspired me?

Early inspirations to engage in medical research must have come from visits to the kitchen where I helped my mum to prepare chicken for cooking.  I spent hours looking at the internal organs and trying to figure out how it might all work.  Later I talked a lot to my brothers Elek and Béla (who also became medical doctors) and read history of medical sciences books and watched television programmes, such as Delta, or live lectures by János Szentágothay on Hungarian television.  I was inspired by my schoolteachers at the Arany János Secondary School in Nagyköros, Hungary who fuelled my interest in chemistry (Etelka Rózsás), biology (László Kis) and later in neuroscience (George Benedek and Mihály Bodosi, Albert Szent-Györgyi Medical School, Szeged, Hungary and Colin Blakemore University of Oxford, UK).  I can never be grateful enough for their unconditional trust and support. Now I get inspiration from my own students and postdoctoral fellows and colleagues at the department and at St John’s College.  I enjoy discussions at tutorials where some of the students with fresh minds come up with the most original and unusual ideas that should be taken seriously and examined further.

Selected publications

Hoerder-Suabedissen A, Molnár Z (2015) Development, evolution and pathology of neocortical subplate neurons. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 16(3):133-46.

García-Moreno F, Molnár Z (2015) Subset of early radial glial progenitors that contribute to the development of callosal neurons is absent from avian brain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 112(36):E5058-67.

Bakken TE, Miller JA, Ding S-L, Sunkin SM, Hevner RF, Molnár Z, Phillips JW, Dang C, Jones AR, Amaral DG, Bernard A, Lein ES (2016) A comprehensive transcriptional map of primate brain development. Nature, 535(7612):367-375.

Lein ES, Belgard TG, Hawrylycz M, Molnár Z (2017) Transcriptomic Perspectives on Neocortical Structure, Development, Evolution, and Disease. Annu Rev Neurosci. 40:629-652.

García-Moreno F, Anderton E, Jankowska M, Begbie J, Manuel Encinas J, Irimia M, Molnár Z (2018) Absence of Tangentially Migrating Glutamatergic Neurons in the Developing Avian Brain. Cell Reports 22, 96–109

Awards and distinctions

2018   Elected member to the European Neonatal Brain Club (society involved in the study of neonatal brain)

2018   Elected Fellow of the Anatomical Society; Elected “New Fellow of the Year 2018”

2015   Allan & Maria Myers International Visiting Fellowship, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

2012   Elected Member of “Circle of Willis” Association of medical teachers at Oxford

2010   Medical Sciences Teaching Excellence Award, University of Oxford

2006   Elected Member of “Bundle of His” Association of medical teachers at Oxford

1999   Krieg Cortical Kudos Cortical Explorer Prize of the American Anatomical Society's Cajal Club

1995   Biennial Rolleston Memorial Prize of Oxford and Cambridge Universities for 1994–1995 (given for the best DPhil thesis)

1988   The István Apáthy Medal of the Albert Szent-Györgyi Medical University, Szeged, Hungary

1981   The 1981 Arany János Prize of the Arany János Gimnázium, Nagykörös, Hungary