Basic Neurosciences

Publication Analysis 1996-2007
by Ralf Neumann, Labtimes 01/2010

Europe... ... and the World Most Cited Authors... ... and Papers

Most Cited Authors - Pictures

In Europe, the highest citation numbers were achieved with neuroimaging studies rather than by applying methods from molecular or cell biology to neuroscience. Apparently, this fact has also contributed to England’s dominance of the field.

The famous German free-climber Wolfgang Güllich once stated, “The brain is the most important muscle for climbing.” Okay, you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to know what’s wrong with that statement. We can, however, surmise that Güllich intentionally chose the misconception of the “brain muscle” in order to make one point fundamentally clear: the enormous importance of the brain (and the whole nervous system) in controlling, coordinating and integrating the functioning and the behaviour of a whole organism. Even when it comes to such a specialised activity as free-climbing.

No wonder, therefore, that trying to understand the basics of how this “control centre” and its information pathways work has been and still is one of the topmost issues of life science research.

Basics – that’s an important keyword here since in this publication analysis we tried to separate research into basic neuroscience from research into clinical neuroscience, which has its focus on the diseases, defects and malfunctions of the nervous systems including their therapies.

How did we try to achieve that? The main problem was that even in clinical institutes (neurology, psychiatry...) a significant portion of research has to be regarded as basic neuroscience. So, how does one decide whether the research of a scientist working at a clinical institute is basic or clinical without having to check all their papers individually?

Muscle? What muscle?

Help was provided by the Web of Science citation database from Thomson Reuters, which was used for this analysis. Web of Science divides the whole bunch of neuroscience journals into the two categories “neuroscience” and “clinical neurology”. Thus, it’s comparatively easy to check, in which of these two categories a certain author has published more articles. And despite the notion that the boundaries between basic and clinical neuroscience certainly are fluid, we made this publication focus in “neuroscience” journals our key criterion for including individual researchers in our publication analysis “basic neuroscience”.

Who’s “basic”?

The papers published between 1996 and 2007 in the 221 journals of Web of Science’s category “neuroscience” formed the basis for the comparison of the performances of the individual European countries in basic neuroscience research (see “blue” table, p. 33). Certainly, many of the “top papers” in basic neuroscience are published in multidisciplinary science journals like Nature, Science, Cell or Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., nevertheless, we had to omit them from this part of the analysis since Web of Science doesn’t provide any reliable tools to automatically extract relevant neuroscience articles from those multidisciplinary journals. Despite this limitation, however, we believe that a survey, restricted to the specialist journals only, still provides sufficiently valid indicators for the countries’ overall productivity in neuroscience research. On the contrary, rankings of the most-cited researchers and papers (see tables, p. 34) could be analysed from publications in all journals.

Applying this directive, England emerged as Europe’s number one in basic neuroscience research in terms of overall citations. All papers published in the period from 1996-2007, with at least one author from an English lab, were cited more than 740,000 times in total up until November 2009. Germany, the runner-up, came in at slightly less than 690,000 citations, whereas France and Italy followed relatively far behind (390,000 and 290,000 citations, respectively).

Interestingly, the fact that Germany produced the highest overall number of articles in the neuroscience journals (almost 35,000) did not prevent England’s lead in total citations. The reason was England’s excellent mean citation rate: each article was cited 22.2 times on average up until November 2009. Only Switzerland achieved a better rate with 23.6 citations per article; Sweden and Wales were the only other European countries rating over 20.

Two dominating camps

When compared to the USA (see yellow table on this page), Europe once again were forced to follow in the shadows. Despite publishing more articles in the neuroscience journals than their US colleagues (165,000 vs. 153,000), the papers with European (co-)authors were clearly cited less frequently in total (2.9 million vs. 3.7 million). One consequence being that with a grand average of 23.8 citations per paper, the USA even outperformed England’s and Switzerland’s good average citation rates.

On the other hand, the European “Top Two”, England and Germany, kept well ahead of Japan and Canada in the neurosciences – in contrast to the situation in quite a few other life science disciplines.

When turning to the most-cited European authors and papers in neuroscience (see tables on next page), one thing becomes immediately obvious: almost the whole tip of the field can easily be split into two camps when it comes to methodology.

One camp comprises researchers (and their papers) digging into the questions of brain and nerve function by means of molecular and cell biology. The most-cited paper about the involvement of the brain’s serotonin metabolism in anxiety-related traits belongs to this camp, as do the papers placed 2nd and 5th. Representatives from the “top 30”-cited authors are, for example, Florian Holsboer (6th), Vincenzo di Marzo (7th), Michel Goedert (8th), Michel Ladzunski (11th) or Adriano Aguzzi (17th). Altogether, this result is another documentation of how enormously successful molecular and cell biology have been during the last decades in elucidating key mechanisms of neuronal function.

“Neurons don’t sleep but brains do”

More recently, however, technologies of imaging the activity of whole brains (or large areas of it) have improved to such an extent that the camp of researchers applying these methods has even overtaken the molecular and cellular neuroscientists – at least according to our analysis. The five most-cited European authors come from this field; the top three – Karl Friston, Raymond Dolan, Christopher Frith – all work in the same institute, the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging in London.

One reason for this might be that, if you have the equipment at hand, a certain amount of data can be generated at faster rates by imaging methods than by applying the tools of molecular and cell biology.

Another reason, however, might be the increasing awareness that some higher levels of neuronal and brain function are too complex to be tackled and explained by a reductionistic view on cells and molecules alone. This notion is aptly documented, for example, by the following recent statement of a sleep researcher in response to some obvious “over-interpretation” of a cellular/molecular study, “Neurons don’t sleep but brains do.”


Articles appearing between 1996 and 2007 in neuroscience journals as listed by Thomson Scientific’s Web of Science. The numbers of citations are accurate as of November 2009. A country’s figures are derived from articles where at least one author working in the respective European nation is included in the author’s list. Israel is included because it is a member of many European research organisations and programmes (EMBO, FP7 of the EU...).

Citations of articles published between 1996 and 2007 were recorded up until November 2009 using the Web of Science database from Thomson Reuters. The “most cited papers” had correspondence addresses in Europe or Israel.


Country Citations Articles Cit./Art.

... and the World

Citations Articles Cit./Art.

Most Cited Authors...

Citations Articles
1.Karl J. Friston, Wellcome Trust Ctr. Neuroimaging UCL London27.342277
2.Raymond J. Dolan, Wellcome Trust Ctr. Neuroimaging UCL London23.332242
3.Christopher D. Frith, Wellcome Trust Ctr. Neuroimaging UCL London23.022221
4.Trevor W. Robbins, Expt. Psychol. Univ. Cambridge22.733311
5.Richard S.J. Frackowiak, Cognit. & Brain Sci. Unit MRC/Cambridge19.483186
6.Florian Holsboer, Max Planck-Inst. Psychiat. Munich15.130345
7.Vincenzo di Marzo, Endocannabinoid Res. Grp. CNR/Naples15.102223
8.Michel Goedert, MRC Mol. Biol. Lab Cambridge14.090134
9.Steve C.R. Williams, Ctr. Neuroimaging Sci. Kings Coll. London13.785233
10.Hans Lassmann, Neuroimmunol. Ctr. Brain Res. Med. Univ. Vienna13.594231
11.Michel Lazdunski, Mol. & Cell. Pharmacol. CNRS/Univ. Nice12.719175
12.Karl Zilles, Inst. Brain Res. Univ. Düsseldorf & Res. Ctr. Jülich12.492300
13.John C. Rothwell, Motor Neurosci. & Movement Disord. UCL London12.317296
14.Barry J. Everitt, Expt. Psychol. Univ. Cambridge11.904133
15.Klaus-Peter Lesch, Psychiat. Univ. Würzburg11.370219
16.Giacomo Rizzolatti, Human Physiol. Univ. Parma11.33156
17.Adriano Aguzzi, Neuropathol. Univ. Zurich Hosp.11.234247
18.Konrad Beyreuther, Ctr. Mol. Biol. Univ. Heidelberg10.625178
19.Christian Haass, Biochem. Univ. Munich10.552159
20.Reinhard Jahn, Max Planck-Inst. biophys. Chem. Göttingen10.520114
21.Tomas Hökfelt, Neurosci. Karolinska Inst. Stockholm9.790284
22.Bert Sakmann, Max Planck-Inst. Med. Res. Heidelberg9.719101
23.Giorgio Bernardi, Dept. Neurosci. Univ. Tor Vergata Rome9.617372
24.Jean Pierre Changeux, CNRS Inst. Pasteur Paris9.524172
25.Kaj Blennow, Neurosci. Sahlgrenska Univ. Hosp. Gothenburg9.513260
26.John Ashburner, Wellcome Trust Ctr. Neuroimaging UCL/London9.41960
27.Thomas J. Jentsch, Leibniz-Inst. & Max-Delbrück-Ctr. Berlin9.216102
28.Maria Grazia Spillantini, Ctr. Brain Repair Univ. Cambridge9.20378
29.Edmund T. Rolls, Expt. Psychol. Univ. Oxford9.161157
30.Stanislas Dehaene, Cogn. Neuroimag. Unit INSERM/Univ. Paris-Orsay8.662109

... and Papers

1.Lesch, KP; Bengel, D; Heils, A; Sabol, SZ; Greenberg, BD; [...]; Muller, CR; Hamer, DH; Murphy, DL
Association of anxiety-related traits with a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene regulatory region.
SCIENCE, 274 (5292): 1527-1531 NOV 29 1996
2.Spillantini, MG; Schmidt, ML; Lee, VMY; Trojanowski, JQ; Jakes, R; Goedert, M
alpha-synuclein in Lewy bodies.
NATURE, 388 (6645): 839-840 AUG 28 1997
3.Ashburner, J; Friston, KJ
Voxel-based morphometry - The methods.
NEUROIMAGE, 11 (6): 805-821 Part 1 JUN 2000
4.Logothetis, NK; Pauls, J; Augath, M; Trinath, T; Oeltermann, A
Neurophysiological investigation of the basis of the fMRI signal.
NATURE, 412 (6843): 150-157 JUL 12 2001
5.Ophoff, RA; Terwindt, GM; Vergouwe, [...]; vanOmmen, GJB; Hofker, MH; Ferrari, MD; Frants, RR
Familial hemiplegic migraine and episodic ataxia type-2 are caused by mutations in the Ca2+ channel gene CACNL1A4.
CELL, 87 (3): 543-552 NOV 1 1996

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