A scholarly library

Highly Cited Neuroscience Articles

The world of science is a world of publication counts and citation statistics. And in neuroscience, things are no different. It seems now, more than ever, that having your work published determines the trajectory of your career (although thankfully, this isn’t always true).

To get more insight, we were interested in what gets published, and, perhaps more importantly, what gets cited.

Fortunately, we weren’t the first to do this. In 2017, Yeung and colleagues analysed papers from the Web of Science to distil who was doing the most cited research in neuroscience, and what their topics were. We thought you might like to know too, so here’s a summary.

The Study

With the overwhelming volume of neuroscience publications, identifying key research topics can be challenging for clinicians and scientists. To address this gap, Yeung et al. performed a bibliometric analysis to identify and characterize the 100 most-cited articles in neuroscience.

Interested in EEG?

The study utilized data from the Web of Science, focusing on publication year, journal, impact factors, citation counts, reference lists, authorship, and article types.


The total citation count for the top 100 articles ranged from 2,138 to 7,326, with a mean of 3,087. Most articles were research-oriented (67%) and published between 1996 and 2000 (30%).

Stephen M. Smith and Science emerged as the leading author and journal, with six and thirteen contributions, respectively.

Thirty-seven articles formed an interlinked citation network, categorised into five major topics: neurological disorders, prefrontal cortex/emotion/reward, brain network, brain mapping, and methodology.

Intriguingly, 41 of the remaining non-interlinked articles also aligned with these five topics.

Detailed Analysis

Bradford’s law essentially suggests that a few journals and articles are cited the most, with exponentially diminishing returns outside this group. The distribution of citations among articles Yeung et al. reviewed did not adhere to Bradford’s law. This suggests a more even distribution of attention.

Major contributing journals included Science, NeuroImage, Neurology, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the peak in publications occurred during 1996–2000.

In terms of authorship, 533 contributors were identified, 55 of which were listed in the Highly Cited Researchers 2016 list.

Noteworthy authors contributing to three or more articles included Stephen M. Smith, John Ashburner, and Mark Jenkinson. The citation network revealed five distinct topics, with the majority of contributions focusing on neurological disorders and methodology.

Despite the lack of a significant correlation between adjusted impact factor and citation count, a two-step clustering analysis highlighted a distinct cluster of articles from high-impact journals. However, normalized citation counts did not significantly differ between clusters.

Interestingly, a positive correlation was observed between years since publication and normalized citation count, indicating that newer articles had lower normalized citation counts, possibly due to the exponential growth in neuroscience publications.

Something Is Missing

Although the authors appear to have carried out an objective, data-driven analysis of neuroscience papers, there seem to be one glaring omission!

A squid
One of, if not the most, famous paper in neuroscience considers squid neurons. We’ve written an in-depth post about.

The classic Hodgkin and Huxley papers that define the neuroscientific community are not mentioned in the report. This, despite one of their most famous papers “A quantitative description of membrane current and its application to conduction and excitation in nerve” having, at the time of writing (admittedly seven years later), almost 30,000 citations.

Perhaps most of those citations came in the last seven years. Perhaps not. In either case, we delve into this paper in another blog post. So do take a look!


The study’s findings contribute a comprehensive overview of the 100 most-cited articles in neuroscience, aiding the identification and recognition of pivotal research topics. While acknowledging the limitations of citation analysis, the study provides valuable insights into the evolving landscape of neuroscience literature and highlights the diverse niches within the field.

Think that things have changed in the past few years? Feel free to let us know at