Institut NeuroPSI - UMR9197
CNRS Université Paris-Saclay
Campus CEA Saclay
Saclay, FRANCE

Dr. Yves Fregnac

Directeur de Recherche (DRCE Émérite), Pr École Polytechnique

+33(0)1 69 82 34 15, bureau 3133
ORCID : 0000-0001-8304-7741

Biographical sketch

Dr./Pr. Yves Frégnac

Born, August 13th, 1951,
Married, two children, French nationality

Emeritus scientist :

  • Founder and Director of the CNRS-UNIC (Neuroscience, Information and Complexity Unit)
  • Research Director at the CNRS (exceptional class DRCE2)
  • Professor in Cognitive Sciences at the École Polytechnique (Emeritus) and at Centrale-Supelec.

Institution : Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS-UNIC)

Département : Institut de Neurosciences Paris-Saclay (NeuroPSI), Gif-sur-Yvette-Saclay, France

Academic Cursus

  • Master in Biophysics Paris V (1973)
  • Grande École : Ingénieur de l’École Supérieure d’Électricité (Supelec) Supelec (1974)
  • PhD-Habilitation (Models) : Doctorat ès-Biologie Humaine (School of Medicine) Paris V (1978)
  • PhD-Habilitation (Neuroscience): Doctorat ès-Sciences Paris VI (1982)


Present: Emeritus Research Director (Exceptional Class) at the CNRS
2008-2016: Full Professor in Cognitive Sciences at the Ecole Polytechnique
1999-2016: Director of the Unit of Neuroscience, Information and Complexity (UNIC-CNRS)
2010-2016: Co-director of the Federative Institute of Neurobiology Alfred Fessard (INAF-CNRS)
2016-2020: Director of the « Visual Cognitive Neurosciences » Team at UNIC-NeuroPSI

Scientific Awards

  • Grand Prix thématique de l’Académie des Sciences (Prix Jaffé) in 1999
  • Grand Prix de l’Institut de France (Prix Louis D.) in 2008

Recent Synergistic Activities

• Head of the “Cognitive Visual Sciences” Team at UNIC. Head of the Dept of Neuroscience, Information and Complexity (UNIC) at the CNRS (1999-2016).
• Co-Supervision (presently) of 4 PhD students (Domenico Guarino, Margot Larroche, Yannick Passarelli and Benoit Lebec) and 2 Postdocs: Xoana Troncoso (Marie Curie Fellowship), Jan Antolik (HBP; IdeV).
• CNRS and Biology coordinator of European Integrated Projects (Future Emerging Technologies (FET): Facets and BrainScales). CNRS scientific coordinator for The Human Brain Project.
• Professor in Cognitive Sciences at the Ecole Polytechnique and the Ecole Supérieure d’Electricité
• Organization of 37 international symposia and 3 interdisciplinary Advanced Schools.
• Postgrade teaching in interdisciplinary Summer Schools (System and Computational Neuroscience)
• Invited Professor at the Neuroscience Institute of Natal
• Member of the ATIP CNRS-INSERM Review Committee (2005-2015). Previously, nominated Member of the Sections 25 and 26 of the Comité National du CNRS and of the CNRS-MPG ATIP Committee.
• President of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research (MPG-BRI, Frankfurt) (2010-2018)
• SAB Member of the Biology Institute of the Ecole Normale Supérieure (IBENS) (2013-2018)
• SAB Member of the Institute of Neuroscience at Natal (Brazil) (2014-permanent)
• System and Computational Neuroscience expert : Participation in NSF-French-German and German-Japan grant review panels
• Ad-hoc reviewer for MRC (UK), Canadian Council of Research, Israeli Research Council, EPSRC (UK)
• Chief-Editor of the Journal of Physiology (Paris), until 2011
• Associate Editor of Frontiers in Neural Circuits
• Ad-hoc reviewer for Science, Neuron, Nature Neurosci, PLoS Computational Biology, Network, Neural Computation, Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Neurophysiology.

Recent Collaborators (Labs listed)

Outside UNIC

  • Germany: Karlheinz Meier (Heidelberg Khirchoff Institute) – Ad Aertsen (Freiburg Bernstein Center) – Avrvin Kumar (Freiburg Bernstein Center) – Gilles Laurent (MPGBRI, Frankfurt)
  • USA: Dan Butts (Maryland, Computational Lab) – Jose-Manuel Alonso (SUNY School of Optometry) – Michael Friedlander (Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, Roanoke)
  • France: Guillaume Masson and Frédéric Chavane (INT, Marseille) – Gabriel Peyré (Maths Department, Ceremade-Paris-Dauphine) – Olivier Faugeras (INRIA, Sophia Antipolis) – Stanislas Dehaene (NeuroSpin)
  • Sweden : Per Roland (KTH)
  • Israel: Amiram Grinvald (Weizmann Institute)
  • Hungary: Zoltan Kisvarday (Debrecen)

Within UNIC

Daniel Shulz – Alain Destexhe – Cyril Monier – Kirsty Grant – Andrew Davison – Brice Bathellier – Thierry Bal

Brief Bibliography

Yves Frégnac is Emeritus Research Director (DRCE2, Exceptional Class) at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. He has been the Head of the CNRS interdisciplinary department that he founded in 1999 (UNIC : Unit of Integrative and Computational Neuroscience, which became Unit of Information and Complexity in 2011), and co-director of the CNRS Federative Institute Alfred Fessard of Neurobiology (INAF) in Gif sur Yvette. He is now Emeritus Research Director (since January 2017). He has been also Full Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Ecole Polytechnique, near Paris, for the past 8 years, and continues teaching a course on « Brain and Cognition » at the Ecole Centrale-Supelec.

Today, Yves Frégnac remains the Director of the group « Visual Cognitive Sciences » that he created at UNIC. His interdisciplinary research explores the phenomenon of complexity related to the natural dynamics of biological computation in cortical neural networks. He was awarded the Grand Prix thématique de l’Académie des Sciences (Prix Jaffé) in 1999 and the Grand Prix de l’Institut de France (Prix Louis D.) in 2008, for his international leadership in interdisciplinarity and his advances into the study of multiscale complexity in the early visual system of the mammalian brain.

For the past 20 years, Yves Frégnac has been the coordinator of the global involvement of UNIC and CNRS labs in European Integrated Projects of the FET (Future Emerging Technologies) Program: Life-like perception and FET-Open: SenseMaker, Facets, Facets-ITN, Brain-i-nets and BrainScales. These projects have contributed in a major way to the development of a new interdisciplinary scientific field, ie neuromorphic computing, paving the way for the EC flagship project “The Human Brain Project” (HBP). Yves Fregnac has been involved in the ramp-up phase of the HBP flagship, as a member (and work-package leader) of the « cognitive architecture » division coordinated by Stanislas Dehaene (NeuroSpin), and has acted as the scientific CNRS coordinator of French labs for this project until April 2016. He is member of the « Groupe Miroir HBP », in charge of the follow-up of Flagship Projects at the Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche. For the past 5 years, Yves Frégnac has been Director of the French node of the International Neuroinformatics Coordination Facilities (INCF), with Jean-Baptiste Poline (NeuroSpin) and Andrew Davison (UNIC) as deputies.

UNIC Research Summary

The inferences that can be made from one level of neural integration to the next, using top-down (from macroscopic to microscopic) or synthetical bottom-up (from microscopic to macroscopic) approaches have become an issue central to the theme of complexity in biological systems. The question addressed by the different research groups at UNIC, and applied in different neural structures (thalamus, visual and somatosensory cortex, electrosensory lobe) and species (electric fish, rat, ferret, cat), can be phrased as : “To what extent can emerging properties specific to one level of organization (for instance low-level perception) be predicted by those demonstrated at lower levels of organization (for instance receptive field organization and synaptic integration)?”. This question extends to both the structural and functional levels.

The research carried out at UNIC is based on interdisciplinary approaches, ranging from
1) electrophysiological techniques (intracellular sharp and patch recordings, dynamic clamp in vivo and in vitro), and network functional imaging (multiple simultaneous single unit recordings and local field potentials, voltage sensitive dye, two-photon imaging) in anesthetized or behaving vertebrates,
2) psychophysical measurements in rodents and humans, to
3) functional databases, theoretical neuroscience and computational network simulations, as well as formal statistical physics models. This multidisciplinary approach is centered on complexity in neocortical networks dynamics during sensory processing and perception, during development and adulthood.

Yves Frégnac’s Team (Cognitive Neurosciences) – Research Summary

The central aim of our research is to identify three features specific of the functional complexity expressed in the early (thalamo-cortical) visual system:

Emergence: To what extent can the existence of functional properties specific to a given level of integration (eg orientation maps) be predicted from the dynamic non-linear interaction of more microscopic processes (eg ON and OFF structure of receptive fields, shunting inhibition) ?

Immergence: To what extent are elementary properties at a more basic level of integration (eg Simple or Complex nature of the receptive field) reconfigured by macroscopic context (topological singularities of maps, global conductance regime of the network, global statistics of the sensory drive). This immergence process can be seen as the reciprocal signature of emergence, where local computations described at the microscopic level can be simplified by a functional « regularization » originating higher in the processing hierarchy.

Network Belief propagation: Our working hypothesis is that, under certain conditions of sensory stimulation obeying the psychological Gestalt laws, the collective activity triggered by the “inducer” stimulus configuration generates, in an unsupervised way, the spatio-temporal spread of a facilitation wave across the cortical assembly. This binding, which is specific of certain features of elements of the visual scene (co-alignment, common fate), operates through intra-V1 horizontal connectivity or through the top-down feedback originating from higher-order cortical areas, similarly to a « prior » in Bayesian inference theories.
Through interdisciplinary projects, combining experimental and computational models, we aim at understanding the cortical coding of natural scenes and the « pop-out” expression of binding mechanisms operating in low-level (non-attentive) perception. These projects rely on a combination of multi-scale measures (in space and in time) based on electrophysiology (intracellular and MEA), network imaging (Voltage sensitive dye (VSD)), and psychophysics, as well as data-driven computational modelling.
The current work is supported by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the French Agency of National Research (ANR: Horizontal-V1 (2018-2022), the Lidex NeuroSaclay and ICode (Paris-Saclay), the Fondation de la Recherche Médicale (FRM) and the European Community (FET and Marie Curie Fellowships, HBP).


Membre de la Faculté des F-1000
H-factor (October 2020) : 40 (7539 citations) – Indice i10 : 80 (Source Google Scholar)
Depuis 2015 : 20418 citations

Publications les plus citées

• Frégnac, Y. and Imbert, M. (1978). Early development of visual cortical cells in normal and dark-reared kittens : relationship between orientation selectivity and ocular dominance. J. Physiol. (London). 278 : 27-44. (Google Scholar : 304). doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1978.sp012290

• Frégnac, Y. and Imbert, M. (1984). Development of neuronal selectivity in primary visual cortex of cat. Physiological Reviews 64 : 325-434. (Google Scholar : 385). doi: 10.1152/physrev.1984.64.1.325

• Frégnac, Y., Shulz, D., Thorpe, S. and Bienenstock, E. (1988). A cellular analog of visual cortical plasticity. Nature. 333 : 367-370. (Google Scholar : 311). Ce travail a été distingué dans « les 100 plus belles découvertes d’Orsay (1995-2005) », synthèse toutes disciplines confondues parue en 2005 chez Vuibert. doi: 10.1038/333367a0

• Frégnac, Y., Shulz, D., Thorpe, S. and Bienenstock, E. (1992) Cellular analogues of visual cortex epigenesis: I. Plasticity of orientation selectivity. The Journal of Neuroscience. 12 (4): 1280-1300. (Google Scholar : 125). doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.12-04-01280.1992

• Shulz, D. and Frégnac, Y. (1992). Cellular analogues of visual cortex epigenesis. II. Plasticity of binocular integration. The Journal of Neuroscience. 12 (4): 1301-1318. (Google Scholar : 71). doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.12-04-01301.1992

• Frégnac, Y., Burke, J.P., Smith, D. and Friedlander, M.J. (1994). Temporal covariance of pre- and postsynaptic activity regulates functional connectivity in the visual cortex. J. Neurophysiol. 71: 1403-1421. (Google scholar : 95). doi: 10.1152/jn.1994.71.4.1403

• Borg-Graham, L.J., Monier, C. and Frégnac, Y. (1996). Voltage-clamp measurement of visually-evoked conductances with whole-cell patch recordings in primary visual cortex. J. Physiol. (Paris). 90(3) : 185-188 (Google scholar : 74). doi: 10.1016/s0928-4257(97)81421-0

• Bringuier, V., Frégnac, Y., Debanne, D., Shulz, D. and Baranyi, A. (1997) Synaptic origin and stimulus dependency of oscillatory neuronal activity in kitten visual cortex. J. Physiol. (London). 500: 751-774. (Google Scholar : 95). doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.1997.sp022056

• Borg-Graham, L.J., Monier, C. and Frégnac, Y. (1998). Visual input evokes transient and strong shunting inhibition in visual cortical neurons. Nature. 393 : 369-373. (Google Scholar : 721). doi: 10.1038/30735

• Bringuier, V ., Chavane, F., Glaeser, L. and Frégnac, Y. (1999). Horizontal propagation of visual activity in the synaptic integration field of area 17 neurons. Science. 283 : 695-699. (Google Scholar : 565). doi: 10.1126/science.283.5402.695

• Frégnac, Y., Debanne, D. and Shulz, D. (1999). Activity-dependent regulation of receptive field properties by supervised Hebbian learning. J. Neurobiology. 41(1) : 69-82. (Google scholar : 71). pubmed-10504194

• Seriès, P., Georges, S, Lorenceau, J. and Frégnac, Y (2002). Orientation dependent modulation of apparent speed : a model based on the dynamics of feedforward and horizontal connectivity in V1 cortex. Vision Research. 42(25) : 2781-2797. (Google Scholar : 70). doi: 10.1016/S0042-6989(02)00302-4

• Monier, C., Chavane, F., Baudot, P., Graham, L.J. and Frégnac, Y. (2003). Orientation and Direction selectivity of synaptic activity in visual cortical neurons : a diversity of combinations produces spike tuning. Neuron. 37 : 663-680. (Google Scholar : 380). doi: 10.1016/S0896-6273(03)00064-3

• Seriès, P., Lorenceau, J. and Frégnac, Y. (2003). The « silent » surround of V1 receptive fields: Theory and experiments. Journal of Physiology (Paris). 97: 453-474. (Google Scholar: 233). doi: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2004.01.023

• Alonso-Nanclares, L., Anderson, S., Ascoli, G., Benavides-Piccione, R., Burkhalter, A., Buzsaki, G., Cauli, B., DeFelipe, J., Fairen, A., Feldmeyer, D., Fishel, G., Frégnac, Y., Freund, T. F., Fukuyi, K., Glarreta, M., Goldberg, J., Helmstaedter, M., Hensch, T., Hestrin, S., Kisvarday, Z., Lambolez, B., Lewis, D., McBain, C., Marin, O., Markham, H., Monyer, H., Muñoz, A., Petersen, C., Rockland, K., Rossier, H., Ruby, B., Somogyi, P., Staiger, J. F., Tamas, G., Thomson, A., Toledo-Rodriguez, M., Wang, X.-J., Wang, Y., West, D. and Yuste, R. (2008). Nomenclature of features of GABAergic interneurons of the cerebral cortex. Nature Neuroscience Reviews 9: 557-568. (citation index Google Scholar : 1286). doi: 10.1038/nrn2402

• Pospischil, M., Toledo-Rodriguez, M., Monier, C., Piwkowska, Z., Bal, T., Frégnac, Y., Markram, H. and Destexhe, A. (2008). Minimal Hodgkin-Huxley type models for different classes of cortical and thalamic neurons. Biological Cybernetics. 99 : 427-441. (Google scholar: 233). doi: 10.1007/s00422-008-0263-8

• Monier, C., Fournier, J. and Frégnac, Y. (2008). In vitro and in vivo measures of evoked excitatory and inhibitory conductance dynamics in sensory cortices. Journal of Neuroscience Methods. 169, 323-365. (Google Scholar : 155). doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2007.11.008

• Brette, R., Piwkowska, Z., Monier, C., Rudolph-Lilith, M., Fournier, J., Levy, M., Frégnac, Y., Bal, T. and Destexhe, A. (2008). High-resolution intracellular recordings using a real-time computational model of the electrode. Neuron 59: 379-391. (Google Scholar : 78). doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.06.021

• Marre, O., El Boustani, S., Frégnac, Y. and Destexhe (2009). A. Prediction of spatio-temporal patterns of neural activity from pairwise correlations. Physical Review Letters 102: 138101. (Google Scholar : 148). doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.102.138101

• El Boustani, S., Marre, O., Béhuret, S., Baudot, P., Yger, P., Bal, T., Destexhe, A., Frégnac, Y. (2009). Stimulus-dependency in the power laws of the subthreshold activity of V1 cells. PLoS Computational Biology, 5(9): e1000519, pp 1-18. (Google Scholar : 76). Journal Cover. hal-00331572

• Chavane, F,. Sharon, D., Jancke, D., Marre, O., Frégnac, Y. and Grinvald, A. (2011). Lateral spread of orientation selectivity in V1 is controlled by intracortical cooperativity. Frontiers in System Neuroscience, 5:4. 1-26. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2011.00004. Google Scholar: 80 (10023 views). doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2011.00004

• J Fournier, C Monier, M Pananceau, Y Frégnac (2011). Adaptation of the simple or complex nature of V1 receptive fields to visual statistics. Nature neuroscience 14 (8), 1053-1060 (Google Scholar: 54). doi: 10.1038/nn.2861

• P Baudot, M Levy, O Marre, C Monier, M Pananceau, Y Frégnac (2013). Animation of natural scene by virtual eye-movements evokes high precision and low noise in V1 neurons. Frontiers in neural circuits 7, 206 (Google Scholar: 50). doi: 10.3389/fncir.2013.00206

• Frégnac, Y. and Laurent, G. (2014). Where is the brain in the Human Brain Project. Nature Comments. Nature, Sep 4th 2014, 513 : 27-29. Supplementary to be found at (Google Scholar : 79). doi: 10.1038/513027a

• Frégnac, Y. and Bathellier, B. (2015). Cortical correlates of low-level perception : from neural circuits to percepts. Neuron. 88(1): 110-126. (Google Scholar : 46). doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.09.041

• G Hahn, A Ponce-Alvarez, C Monier, G Benvenuti, A Kumar, F Chavane, and Frégnac, Y. (2017). Spontaneous cortical activity is transiently poised close to criticality. PLoS computational biology 13 (5), e1005543 (Google Scholar 49). doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005543

• Frégnac, Y. (2017). Big Data and Neuroscience industrialization: A safe roadmap for understanding the Brain ? In the special issue « The need for new concepts in Neuroscience ». Science. 358 (6362): 470-477. (Google Scholar: 64). doi: 10.1126/science.aan8866

• Frégnac, Y. (2018). « Big Data » et industrialisation des neurosciences : une feuille de route raisonnable pour la compréhension du Cerveau ? Intellectica, 1-2, 69, pp. 201-236.

• Taylor M. M, Contreras D, Destexhe A, Frégnac Y, Antolik J. (2021). An Anatomically Constrained Model of V1 Simple Cells Predicts the Coexistence of Push–Pull and Broad Inhibition. J. Neuroscience, 41 (37) 7797-7812; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0928-20.2021.

Distinctions scientifiques

  • Grand Prix thématique de l’Académie des Sciences (1999 – Prix Jaffé)
  • Grand Prix Louis D. de l’Institut de France (2008)