Giulio Tononi

Position title: Professor, Department of Psychiatry


Phone: (608) 263-6063




M.D., Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, Italy
Ph.D. in Neurobiology, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, Italy
O.T.H. in Psychiatry, University of Pisa Medical School, Pisa, Italy

Research Description:

My scientific work has focused on two main themes: 1) the functions and mechanisms of sleep; and 2) the neural substrate of consciousness.

My laboratory studies consciousness and its disorders as well as the mechanisms and functions of sleep. My main contribution in the study of consciousness has been the development of the integrated information theory. This is a comprehensive theory of what consciousness is, what determines its quantity and quality, and how it emerges from causal structures such as neural networks. The theory provides a parsimonious account of many neuropsychological observations, among them why certain parts of the brain give rise to experience and others do not, why consciousness vanishes during slow wave sleep and seizures despite continuing neural activity, and how unconscious processes interact with conscious ones. With regard to the study of sleep, my main contribution has been the development of a comprehensive hypothesis about the function of sleep, the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis. According to the hypothesis, sleep serves to renormalize synaptic strength, counterbalancing a net increase of synaptic strength due to plasticity during wakefulness. In short, sleep is the price to pay for plasticity during wakefulness.

Research Key Words:

Consciousness, Sleep, Interated Information Theory, Disorders of Consciousness, Synaptic Homeostasis Hypothesis

Link to Lab Website

Link to Publications