Giulio Tononi

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Giulio Tononi
Trento, Italy
Alma materSant'Anna School of Advanced Studies
Known forSleep research, integrated information theory, consciousness studies
AwardsNIH Director's Pioneer award (2005)
Scientific career
FieldsPsychology, neuroscience
InstitutionsUniversity of Wisconsin, Madison
University of Pisa
University of California at San Diego
Notable studentsErik Hoel

Giulio Tononi (Italian: [ˈdʒuːljo toˈnoːni]) is a neuroscientist and psychiatrist who holds the David P. White Chair in Sleep Medicine, as well as a Distinguished Chair in Consciousness Science, at the University of Wisconsin. He is best known for his Integrated Information Theory (IIT), a mathematical theory of consciousness, which he has proposed since 2004.[1][2]


Tononi was born in Trento, Italy, and obtained an M.D. in psychiatry and a Ph.D. in neurobiology at the Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy.

He is an authority on sleep, and in particular the genetics and etiology of sleep.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9] Tononi and collaborators have pioneered several complementary approaches to study sleep:

  • genomics
  • proteomics
  • fruit fly models
  • rodent models employing multiunit / local field potential recordings in behaving animals
  • in vivo voltammetry and microscopy
  • high-density EEG recordings and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in humans
  • large-scale computer models of sleep and wakefulness

This research has led to a comprehensive hypothesis on the function of sleep (proposed with sleep researcher Chiara Cirelli), the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis. According to the hypothesis, wakefulness leads to a net increase in synaptic strength, and sleep is necessary to reestablish synaptic homeostasis. The hypothesis has implications for understanding the effects of sleep deprivation and for developing novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to sleep disorders and neuropsychiatric disorders.[10]

Tononi is a leader in the field of consciousness studies,[11] and has co-authored a book on the subject with Nobel prize winner Gerald Edelman.[12][13]

Tononi also developed the integrated information theory (IIT): a theory of what consciousness is, how it can be measured, how it is correlated with brain states, and why it fades when we fall into dreamless sleep and returns when we dream. The theory is being tested with neuroimaging, Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and computer models.[14] His work has been described as "the only really promising fundamental theory of consciousness" by collaborator Christof Koch.[15]


  • Massimini, M.; Tononi, G. (2018). Sizing up Consciousness: Towards an Objective Measure of the Capacity for Experience. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-872844-3.
  • Tononi, G. (2012). PHI: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul. Pantheon Books.
  • Laureys, S.; Tononi, G. (2009). The Neurology of Consciousness: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuropathology. Academic Press.
  • Tononi, G. (2003). Galileo e il fotodiodo. Laterza (Bari).
  • Edelman, G.M.; Tononi, G. (2000). A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination. Basic Books.
  • Sporns, O.; Tononi, G. (1994). Selectionism and the Brain. Academic Press.


  1. ^ Oizumi, Masafumi; Albantakis, Larissa; Tononi, Giulio (2014-05-08). "From the Phenomenology to the Mechanisms of Consciousness: Integrated Information Theory 3.0". PLOS Comput Biol. 10 (5): e1003588. Bibcode:2014PLSCB..10E3588O. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003588. PMC 4014402. PMID 24811198.
  2. ^ Tononi, Giulio (22 January 2015). "Integrated information theory". Scholarpedia. 10 (1): 4164. Bibcode:2015SchpJ..10.4164T. doi:10.4249/scholarpedia.4164.
  3. ^ "Hard lessons, sound sleep". New Scientist. June 2004. Retrieved 2008-05-15.
  4. ^ "Memory formation: The big sleep". The Economist. April 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-15.
  5. ^ Sarah Graham (April 2005). "Slumbering Fruit Flies Shed Light on Genetics of Sleep Needs". (Scientific American). Retrieved 2008-05-14.
  6. ^ Carl Zimmer (November 2005). "Down for the Count". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-14.
  7. ^ Henry Fountain (January 2008). "Study Gives Key Role to Sleep in Helping Brain Learn Anew". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-14.
  8. ^ "Scientists Find Brain Areas Affected By Lack Of Sleep". ScienceDaily. November 2003. Retrieved 2008-05-14.
  9. ^ John Fauber (May 2007). "Turning back brain's clock?: UW sleep study could have implications for disorders". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 2008-05-15.
  10. ^ "Giulio Tononi". Machines Like Us. Archived from the original on 2015-04-18. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
  11. ^ Carl Zimmer (September 20, 2010). "Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-20.
  12. ^ Gerald Edelman; Giulio Tononi (June 2000). Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (book). Allen Lane.
  13. ^ Steven Poole (June 2000). "Mind games: Gerald Edelman and Giulio Tononi dodge the question of free will in Consciousness". Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 2008-05-14.
  14. ^ Tononi, Giulio (2008). "Consciousness as Integrated Information: A Provisional Manifesto". The Biological Bulletin. 215 (3): 216–242. doi:10.2307/25470707. JSTOR 25470707. PMID 19098144. S2CID 364500.
  15. ^ Zimmer, Carl (20 September 2010). "Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-22.

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