Suzana Herculano-Houzel

Suzana Herculano-Houzel

Department of Psychology and Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, USA

Suzana Herculano-Houzel


Suzana Herculano-Houzel is Associate Professor of the Departments of Psychology and Biological Sciences, and the head of the Laboratory of Comperative Neuroanatomy at Vanderbilt University. She received her Ph. D in Neuroscience at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 1999 after which she came back to Brazil to became an Associate Professor at Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, between 2002-2016.

Prof. Herculano-Houzel’s work focuses on 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.

She is well-known for preparing so-called “brain soups”, which broke the myth that the human brain has 100 billion neurons, estimating the corrects number for 86 billion. This is still far more than other animals relative to brain size which, prof. Herculano-Houzel suggests, is thanks to the invention of cooking by our ancestors, which makes food yield much more metabolic energy.

The Laboratory of Comparative Neuroanatomy uses quantitative morphological approaches to investigate the diversity of the nervous system across animals, its evolution and developmental origins. Most of the studies apply the Isotropic Fractionator-a non-stereological method developed in the lab in 2005 that allows the fast, simple and reliable determination of numbers of neuronal and non-neuronal cells in any dissectable brain structure.

Outside of the laboratory, prof. Herculano-Houzel is well known for bringing neuroscience to the public. Some of her most recognised projects and appearances are the book The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable (MIT Press, 2016) and TED talks : Listening to Nature (2013), and Lessons from brain soup (2013), and Why do we have to go to school, really? (2018). 

Selected Publications

Azevedo, F.A.C., Carvalho, L.R.B., Grinberg, L.T., Farfel, J.M., Ferretti, R.E.L., Leite, R.E.P., Jacob Filho, W., Lent, R., Herculano-Houzel, S., 2009. Equal numbers of neuronal and nonneuronal cells make the human brain an  isometrically scaled-up primate brain. J. Comp. Neurol. 513, 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. J. Comp. Neurol. 524, 3865–3895. 

Jardim-Messeder, D., Lambert, K., Noctor, S., Pestana, F.M., de Castro Leal, M.E., Bertelsen, M.F., Alagaili, A.N., Mohammad, O.B., Manger, P.R., Herculano-Houzel, S., 2017. Dogs Have the Most Neurons, Though Not the Largest Brain: Trade-Off between Body  Mass and Number of Neurons in the Cerebral Cortex of Large Carnivoran Species. Front. Neuroanat. 11, 118. 

Herculano-Houzel, S., Lent, R., 2005. Isotropic fractionator: a simple, rapid method for the quantification of total  cell and neuron numbers in the brain. J. Neurosci.  Off. J. Soc.  Neurosci. 25, 2518–2521.

More information

Suzana Herculano-Houzel website

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