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Suzana Herculano-Houzel

Associate Professor
Associate Director for Communications, Vanderbilt Brain Institute

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.

Lab Website

Representative Publications


- Olkowicz S et al. (2016) Birds have primate-like numbers of neurons in the telencephalon. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 113, 7255-7260.

- Von Bartheld CS, 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. J Comp Neurol, published online before print.

-  Ngwenya A, Patzke N, Manger PR, Herculano-Houzel S (2016) Continued growth of the central nervous system without mandatory addition of neurons in the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus). Brain Behav Evol 87, 19-38

Select publications

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

- 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. 

-  Herculano-Houzel S, Catania K, Manger PR, Kaas JH (2015) Mammalian brains are made of these: A dataset on the numbers and densities of neuronal and non-neuronal cells in the brain of glires, primates, scandentia, eulipotyphlans, afrotherians and artiodactyls, and their relationship with body mass. Brain Behav Evol, in press

-  Herculano-Houzel S, Manger PR, Kaas JH (2014) Brain scaling in mammalian brain evolution as a consequence of concerted and mosaic changes in numbers of neurons and average neuronal cell size. Front Neuroanat 8, 77. 

-  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.

-  Fonseca-Azevedo K, Herculano-Houzel S (2012) Metabolic constraint imposes trade-off between body size and number of brain neurons in human evolution. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109, 18571-18576. 

-  Herculano-Houzel S (2012) The remarkable, yet not extraordinary human brain as a scaled-up primate brain and its associated costs and advantages. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109: 10661-10668.

-  Herculano-Houzel S (2011) Scaling of brain metabolism with a fixed energy budget per neuron: implications for neuronal activity, plasticity and evolution. PLoS One 6: e17514. 

-  Herculano-Houzel S (2011) Brains matter, bodies maybe not: the case for examining neuron numbers irrespective of body size. Ann Rev NY Acad Sci 1225, 191-199.

-  Azevedo FAC, Carvalho LRB, Grinberg LT, Farfel JM, Ferretti REL, Leite REP, Jacob Filho W, Lent R, Herculano-Houzel S (2009). Equal numbers of neuronal and non-neuronal cells make the human brain an isometrically scaled-up primate brain. Journal of Comparative Neurology 513, 532-541. 

-  Herculano-Houzel S, Lent R (2005). Isotropic fractionator: a simple, rapid method for the quantification of total cell and neuron numbers in the brain. Journal of Neuroscience 25, 2518-2521.