Giulio Tononi is an award-winning psychiatrist and neuroscientist whose main focus has been the scientific understanding of consciousness. His integrated information theory is a comprehensive theory of what consciousness is, how it can be measured, and how it is realized in the brain. The theory is being tested with neuroimaging, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and computer models.
His work also focuses on understanding the function of sleep. He and his collaborators study species ranging from fruit flies to humans, from the molecular and cellular level to the systems level. This research has led to the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis, according to which sleep is needed to renormalize synapses, counteracting the progressive increase in synaptic strength that occurs during wakefulness due to learning. The hypothesis has implications for understanding the effects of sleep deprivation and for developing diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to sleep disorders and neuropsychiatric disorders.
In 2005, Dr. Tononi received the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award for his work on sleep mechanism and function. He holds the David P. White Chair in Sleep Medicine and the Distinguished Chair in Consciousness Science at the University of Wisconsin.