Note: beginning on November 27th, 2020, accounts have actually been created immediately for CFI Donors. If you"re interested in producing an account for this website you can register now. Or, you can update your donor or member information if you room a prior donor.

You are watching: How many cells in the brain

Username or email Address


psychic Me

Forgot your password?

Having trouble? Email us at webhelp


When i was an undergraduate in graduate school, ns learned the human brain consists that 100 billion neurons (Kolb and also Whishaw 2009). This number was reported in academic journals, textbooks, and in university lectures. That was accepted as fact. I never ever saw a citation of an original source to support the claim, no one did I ever hear anyone question whether or not there was evidence to assistance it. I simply assumed the was usual knowledge and also must be sustained by a huge body the data. Even the basic public knew the the human brain consists that 100 exchange rate neurons. In enhancement to academia’s dissemination of the supposed fact, renowned media adopted and supported the 100 exchange rate neuron idea.

Counting brain Cells

In 2003, Suzanna Herculano Houzel (neuroanatomist from the compare Neuroanatomy Lab at Vanderbilt University) became curious around where the number came from and began come question senior neuroscientists. Nobody was maybe to allude her to the original source. After comprehensive search with the clinical literature, she wasn’t able to uncover a solitary source sustaining the claim (Herculano-Houzel 2016). At that time, she was functioning at the Federal college of Rio de Janeiro and didn’t take into consideration herself a neuroanatomist, didn’t have a lab, and also didn’t have research funding. However her skepticism was strong, and also she was interested in counting brain cells: had anyone counted them in a trusted way?

When she request Nobel laureate Eric Kandel, coauthor of Principles the Neural Science, for an original resource for the claim, he couldn’t provide one also though the insurance claim was made in Principles of Neural Science. Kandel claimed he no responsible because that the chapter containing the 100 exchange rate neuron claim; among his coauthors created that chapter. “It was 2004, and also no one really knew how plenty of neurons can be found on median in the human being brain.” as soon as Roberto Lent, writer of One Hundred exchange rate Neurons, to be asked wherein the number come from, that couldn’t carry out an answer either according come Herculano-Houzel. The location of the publication was later adjusted to One Hundred exchange rate Neurons? with a inquiry mark added to the title.

A vital problem when trying to counting neurons in the mind is the variability of their distribution throughout the brain. The thickness of neurons might vary by determinants of as much as 1,000 across structures. Even within a single structure, different layers deserve to consist of different numbers the neurons.

After plenty of attempts at arising a reliable, valid method for counting mind cells (which had counting neurons, non-neuronal-glia, and endothelia brain cells) the “isotropic fractionator” was complete. The an approach involves dissolving cell membranes while keeping nuclear membranes (each neuron consists of one atom membrane), developing what Herculano-Houzel describes as brain soup. In the mind soup, there space free-floating nuclei that are fairly easy to counting by sampling tiny amounts of the soup. All the nuclei indigenous the cells are stained blue, collected, and also counted. Counting the nuclei is simple and needs no distinct training. In the 2016 publication The human Advantage, Herculano-Houzel provides a description of what went into arising the technique, including information on the early failed attempts come create mind soup. Other researchers, including Christopher von Bartheld indigenous the college of Reno and also Jon Kaas from Vanderbilt University, have shown this method to be fast, reliable, and reasonably easy to use (Bahney and also von Bartheld 2014).

Results, native the isotropic fractionator show the human mind has an average of 86 billion neurons and 85 exchange rate non-neuronal cells (glial cells and also endothelial cells). For world who favor to suggest out that “eighty-six is close to 100” and who insurance claim the 100 billion is reasonable together an order-of-magnitude estimate, Herculano-Houzel counters through saying whole baboon mind contains eleven billion neurons. Fourteen exchange rate is a far-ranging number the neurons. The becomes even more far-ranging when considering each neuron may connect to thousands of various other neurons.

Consistent Skepticism

Herculano-Houzel’s original research and also the research influenced by she findings has led to changes in the expertise of the brain. She has counted brains cell in a variety of various species, for this reason her job-related is likewise important regarding nonhuman animals. Textbook writers and also top brain scientists room acknowledging she groundbreaking work. In a recent conversation with Bryan Kolb, coauthor that Fundamentals of person Neuropsychology (2009), he told me there would certainly be no referrals to the 100 billion neuron legend in future execution of the text. Ns contacted Kolb after reading that the human brain contained about 100 exchange rate neurons in a textbook that coauthored. It to be a text, Fundamentals of human being Neuropsychology, I provided in graduate school. Ns was happy once I review in Eric Kandel’s publication The Disordered Mind: What inexplicable Brains call Us around Ourselves (2018) the the mind “can execute its remarkable swift and accurate computational feats since its 86 exchange rate nerve cells—its neurons—communicate through one one more through very specific connections.” remind from previously in this article, Kandel coauthored a book that proclaimed the human mind consisted that 100 exchange rate neurons. The publication he coauthored, Principles that Neural Science, is often thought about a seminal occupational in the ar of neuroscience.

The trip Herculano-Houzel made to scientific discovery is impressive; it demonstrates a constant skepticism the is necessary for the breakthrough of clinical knowledge. In addition to refuting the 100 billion neuron statistic, her research has refuted various other long-held neuroscience dogmas. Together an example, until recently textbooks promoted the case that glial cell (a form of mind cell connected in plenty of processes, consisting of supporting nerve cells) outnumber nerve cells ten come one in the human being brain. A search for one original resource to support the case failed. Counting brain cells permitted Herculano-Houzel to dispel that myth as well. A paper published by Herculano-Houzel and also colleagues titled “Equal numbers of Neuronal and also Non-Neuronal Cells make the Human brain an Isometrically Scaled-Up Primate Brain,” i beg your pardon is now a greatly cited paper, to be rejected by prominent journals, includingNature,Proceedings the the nationwide Academy of sciences of the U.S.A.,Neuron,and theJournal of Neuroscience. The paper was at some point published in theJournal of compare Neurology (Azevedo et al. 2009). Even high-ranking science journals are periodically resistant to change and execute not necessarily practice the suspicion that is essential to scientific thinking.


Azevedo, F.A.C., et al. 2009. Equal numbers of neuronal and also non-neuronal cells make the human brain and isometrically scaled-up primate brain. Journal of compare Neurology 513: 532–541.

Bahney, J., and C.S. Bartheld. 2014. Validation the the isotropic fractionator: Comparison with unbiased stereology and DNA extraction for quantification of glial cells. Journal that Neuroscience Methods 222: 165–174.

Herculano-Houzel, S. 2016. The human being Advantage: A new Understanding of exactly how Our brain Became Remarkable. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Kandel, E.R. 2018. The Disordered Mind: What unusual Brains call Us around Ourselves. Brand-new York, NY: FSG.

Kandel, E.R. Et al. 2000. Principles the Neural Science, fourth edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

See more: How Many Houses Does Joe Biden Own S 2 The 4 Homes Pictured In A Viral Meme

Kolb, B. And also I. Whishaw. 2009. Fundamentals of human Neuropsychology, 6th edition. New York, NY: precious Publishers.