Robert M. Friedlander, MD, MA

Chairman, Walter E. Dandy Professor of Neurological Surgery
Head of Cerebrovascular Neurosurgery

Robert Friedlander




On June 1, 2010, Robert Friedlander, MD, MA, became the fourth chair in the department’s history. Prior to joining the department, Dr. Friedlander was professor of neurosurgery at Harvard Medical School and vice-chairman of neurosurgery and associate director of cerebrovascular surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

As a sign of his prominence as a clinician and scientist, Dr. Friedlander is one of a very select group of authors to have been invited by the New England Journal of Medicine to write both a basic science review (mechanisms of neuronal cell death), as well as a clinical review (management of AVMs). Clinically, Dr. Friedlander focuses on the operative management of complex cerebrovascular disorders and brain tumors.

Dr. Friedlander’s major research interests lie in the study of the mechanistic pathways of the caspase apoptosis gene family. His work includes the evaluation of treatment strategies for neurodegenerative diseases (Huntington’s and ALS), stroke, brain trauma, and spinal cord injury through the modulation of the caspase-family apoptotic pathways.

Dr. Friedlander’s research has received significant media attention including major work published in Nature, Science, and Nature Medicine.

His work has also been recognized through many academic awards, including the Neurosurgery Resident Award from the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the Bayer Cerebrovascular Award from the Joint Section of Cerebrovascular Surgery, the International Charcot Prize for Motor Neuron Diseases, and the Award from the Academy of Neurological Surgeons. In 2006, Dr. Friedlander was elected as a member of the prestigious American Society for Clinical Investigation. He is only one of two neurosurgeons elected as a member of the American Association of Physicians.

Dr. Friedlander's publications can be reviewed through the National Library of Medicine's publication database.

Specialized Areas of Interest

Aneurysms, vascular malformations, brain tumors, carotid disease, cerebrovascular disease, Chiari malformation, spinal cord tumors. Research focuses on mechanisms of apoptosis, Huntington’s disease, ALS, and stroke.

Board Certifications

American Board of Neurological Surgeons

Hospital Privileges

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC
UPMC Mercy
UPMC Passavant
UPMC Presbyterian
UPMC Shadyside

Professional Organization Membership

The American Academy of Neurological Surgeons
American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Association of Neurological Surgeons
American Association of Physicians
American Society for Clinical Investigation
Congress of Neurological Surgeons
Joint Section of Cerebrovascular Surgery
Pennsylvania Neurological Society
Society for Clinical Investigation
Sociedad Venezolana de Neurocirugia
Society for Neurological Surgeons Society for Neuroscience

Media Appearances

Crown prince of Serbia seeks Pittsburgh medical expertise for his homeland
April 26, 2015
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine at a Charity Dinner in Pittsburgh
April 25, 2015

Neurosurgical treatments give patients chance at pain-free lives
February 7, 2015
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Hospitals bank on neurosurgery procedures to boost bottom line
February 7, 2015
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Talented woodworker survives brain cancer after delicate surgery
December 24, 2014
WTAE-TV 4 Pittsburgh

Bride Walks Down the Aisle
October 7, 2014

Friedlander Discusses Brain Aneurysms
August 20, 2014
KDKA Radio Morning News

Why Major League Pitchers Won’t Wear This Weird Hat
July 24, 2014
New York Times Magazine

Surgery can fix brain aneurysm; support can help recovery
July 7, 2014
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

New Study Supports Conservative Management Over Intervention for Unruptured Brain AVMs
June 5, 2014
Neurology Today

Study shows for first time how Huntington's disease protein could cause death of neurons
May 19, 2014
Medical Xpress

Pitt Study Shows How Huntington’s Disease Protein Could Cause Death of Neurons
May 19, 2014
Gant Daily

Former college football player, city firefighter sues NCAA over concussions
December 17, 2013
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Ex-player sues NCAA over football injuries
December 17, 2013
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Foundations give Pitt $100,000 for ALS research
October 7, 2013

Pitt findings on Lou Gehrig's disease may hold hope
April 26, 2013
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Melatonin Delays ALS Symptom Onset and Death in Mice
April 25, 2013
Science Daily

Cerebral Aneurysms: Analyzing the Treatment Shift
February 13, 2013
Physician's Weekly

Melatonin Delays Onset, Reduces Deaths in Mouse Model of Huntington’s Disease
October 11, 2011
Science Daily

Rep. Giffords has surgery to repair skull
May 19, 2011
Washington Times (Associated Press)

Caspases—Guilty of Murder in First, and Now Second Degrees
March 12, 2011
Altzheimer Research Forum

UPMC Doctor Discusses Prognosis For Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
January 10, 2011
WTAE-TV (Pittsburgh) Action News

Blocking Apoptosis Delays ALS in Mice
October 15, 2010
Altzheimer Research Forum

The lasting impact of concussions
August 18, 2010
Yahoo! Sports

What caused the woman's headache and paralysis?
July 13, 2004
Boston Globe

Newsmaker: Dr. Robert Friedlander
June 17, 2010
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Antibiotic May Slow Gehrig's Disease
May 6, 2002
Associated Press 

An Old Antibiotic Generates New Hopes
July 11, 2000
New York Times

Minocycline slows progress of Huntington's disease in mice
July 8, 2000
British Medical Journal

Antibiotic may help fight Huntington's
June 27, 2000
USA Today

Brain drug shows promise: Slows ALS, may treat other diseases
April 14, 2000
Boston Herald

Lou Gehrig's disease slowed in mice
April 14, 2000
Boston Globe (Associated Press)

Way To Delay Huntington's Disease Found
June 19, 1999
Harvard University Gazette

Scientists slow progress of Huntington's in mice
May 20, 1999

Hope in Brain-Disorder Fight/Tests yield Huntington's clues
May 20, 1999

Approach may slow Huntington’s
May 19, 1999

Scientists slow progress of Huntington's in mice
May 19, 1999
ABC News

Study Targets Huntington's Key
May 19, 1999
CBS News 

UPMC OnTopic Discussions

Carotid Stenosis
Dr. Friedlander discusses the diagnosis and treatment of carotid stenosis. (ver en Español)

Chiari Malformation
Dr. Friedlander discusses the diagnosis and treatment of Chiari Malformations. (ver en Español)

Trabajo en Equipo
Dr. Friedlander discute el enfoque del trabajo en equipo para el tratamiento de pacientes neuroquirúrgicos en UPMC.

Dr. Friedlander analiza las opciones de tratamiento de los aneurismas no rotos en UPMC.

Neurosurgery at UPMC: A powerful team approach
Dr. Friedlander discusses the power of a team approach to treating neurosurgical patients at UPMC.

Research Activities

1) Demonstrated a fundamental step in the pathogenesis of Huntington’s disease. It is clear that expression of mutant huntington (mHtt) in neurons is responsible for disease pathogenesis. However, the manner by which mHtt causes neuronal dysfunction and death is not well understood. Dr. Friedlander demonstrated that mHtt directly binds and obstructs a key channel responsible of importing proteins through the mitochondrial inner membrane into the matrix resulting in progressive mitochondrial dysfunction ultimately leading to cell death. This process is most prominently displayed at the synapse where the mitochondria are farthest from the soma. This was published in Nature Neuroscience with the article featured on the cover and with an accompanying New and Views commentary. 

2) Melatonin not only plays a key role regulating the circadian rhythm but it is also an important neuroprotective molecule. Melatonin is an antioxidant; it is an important cofactor in the electron transport chain as well as it inhibits neuronal death through its interaction with the melatonin type 1a receptor (MT1R). Melatonin production in Huntington’s is deficient. However, the cause of this deficit is not known. Researchers have new data that the last two of the four enzymes required for melatonin synthesis reside in neuronal mitochondrial matrix, indicating that melatonin synthesis exclusively occurs in the mitochondria. In HD, potentially due to the import defect described in (1), there is a reduction of aralkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT), the rate limiting enzyme in the production of melatonin. In addition, Dr. Friedlander found that AANAT is sequestered in neuronal inclusion bodies. These findings are being prepared for publication and have been led by a terrific Tsingua Scholar Wei Li.

3) Dr. Friedlander recently identified that MT1R, a G-protein coupled receptor is localized in the mitochondria. This is only the second GPCR to be identified in the mitochondria. In collaboration with Dr. Jean Pierre Vilardaga from the Department of Pharmacology Chemical Biology, Dr. Friedlander has made a transgenic mouse overexpressing MT1R in neurons. This mouse is protected from cerebral ischemic injury. Dr. Friedlander is collaborating on evaluating the role of microglia in these mice with Dr. Jun Chen from the Department of Neurology.

4) In collaboration with Dr. Lance Taylor and the Drug Development Institute faculty, Dr. Friedlander is in the process of developing several screening paradigms to identify neuroprotective drugs for neurodegenerative diseases, in particular for Huntington’s disease and ALS. Researchers are developing a number of cell models, including iPS lines from our own ALS patients.

5) In Collaboration with Dr. Takis Benos from the Department of Biomedical Informatics and Dr. William Laframboise of the Department of Pathology, Dr. Friedlander has performed a detailed analysis of carotid plaques removed at surgery using a platform of microarrays. Researchers have developed methods to analyze plaque miRNA, mRNA and cytokines and have identified key molecular differences between symptomatic and asymptomatic carotid plaques. This work was led by Ellen Caparosa (fourth year medical student).