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Suzana Herculano-Houzel

Associate Professor of Psychology

What are different brains made of? What is the extent of brain diversity, what are the rules and constraints, how does that happen in evolution, and what difference does it make?

Suzana Herculano-Houzel is interested in comparative neuroanatomy, cellular composition of brains, brain morphology, brain evolution, metabolic cost of body and brain, sleep requirement across species, feeding time, and really interested in how all of these are tied together. Writes about neuroscience and science in general for the public; recently published The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable (MIT Press, 2016).

A TED talk on how the human brain compares to others and how it came to have the largest number of cortical neurons of any brain can be seen here, and another TED talk on the real reason why we need to go to school is available here.

Lab Website

Representative Publications

Brain energetics is supply-limited, not demand-based:

Herculano-Houzel S, Rothman DL (2022) From a demand-based to a supply-limited framework of brain metabolism. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience 16, 818685.

Ventura-Antunes L, Herculano-Houzel S (2022) Energy supply per neuron is constrained by capillary density in the mouse brain. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience 16, 760887.

Ventura-Antunes L, Dasgupta OM, Herculano-Houzel S (2022) Resting rates of blood flow and glucose use per neuron are proportional to number of endothelial cells available per neuron across sites in the rat brain. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience 16, 821850.

DiNuzzo M, Dienel GA, Behar KL, Petroff OAC, Benveniste H, Hyder F, Giove F, Michaeli S, Mangia S, Herculano-Houzel S, Rothman DL (2023). Neurovascular coupling is optimized to compensate for the increase in proton production from nonoxidative glycolysis and glycogenolysis during brain activation and maintain homeostasis of pH, pCO2, and pO2. J Neurochem, 10.1111/jnc.15839

Cortical folding is pure physics - with a dash of biological diversity:

York AR, Sherwood CC, Manger PR, Kaas JH, Mota B, Herculano-Houzel S (2024) Folding of the cerebellar cortex is clade-specific in form, but universal in degree. J Comp Neurol, in press.

Mota B, Herculano-Houzel S (2015) Cortical folding scales universally with cortical surface area and thickness, not number of neurons. Science 349, 74-77.

On the consequences of numbers of neurons for cognitive capacity, longevity, sleep, and human evolution:

Ströckens F, Neves K, Kirchen S, Schwab C, Herculano-Houzel S, Güntürkün O (2022) High associative neuron numbers could drive cognitive performance in corvid species. Journal of Comparative Neurology 530, 1588-1605.

Neves K, Guercio GD, Anjos-Travassos Y, Costa S, Perozzo A, Montezuma K, Herculano-Houzel S, Panizzutti R (2020) Lack of correlation between number of neurons and behavioral performance in Swiss mice. Neurosci Lett  735, 135202.

Herculano-Houzel S (2019) Life history changes accompany increased numbers of cortical neurons: a new framework for understanding human brain evolution. Prog Brain Res 250, 179-216.

Herculano-Houzel S (2019) Longevity and sexual maturity vary across species with number of cortical neurons, and humans are no exception. J Comp Neurol 527, 1689-1705.

Herculano-Houzel S (2015) Decreasing sleep requirement with increasing numbers of neurons as a driver for bigger brains and bodies in mammalian evolution. Proc Royal Soc B 282, 20151853.

Numbers of neurons in different brain species, from humans to dinosaurs:

Herculano-Houzel S (2023) Theropod dinosaurs had primate-like numbers of telencephalic neurons. J Comp Neurol 531, 962-974.

Olkowicz S, Kocourek M, Lucan RK, Portes M, Fitch WT, Herculano-Houzel S, Nemec P (2016) Birds have primate-like numbers of neurons in the telencephalon. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 113, 7255-7260.

Herculano-Houzel S, Avelino-de-Souza K, Neves K, Porfírio J, Messeder D, Calazans I, Mattos L, Maldonado J, Manger PM (2014) The elephant brain in numbers. Front Neuroanat 8, 46.

Azevedo, F. A., Carvalho, L. R., Grinberg, L. T., Farfel, J. M., Ferretti, R. E., Leite, R. E., ... & Herculano‐Houzel, S. (2009). Equal numbers of neuronal and nonneuronal cells make the human brain an isometrically scaled‐up primate brain. Journal of Comparative Neurology513(5), 532-541.

Von Bartheld, C. S., Bahney, J., & Herculano‐Houzel, S. (2016). The search for true numbers of neurons and glial cells in the human brain: A review of 150 years of cell counting. Journal of Comparative Neurology524(18), 3865-3895.


Full list through Google Scholar


Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science