Muhammad Spocter, Ph.D.

DirectorMaster of Science in Anatomy Program
Assistant ProfessorAnatomy
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Program
Office Phone 515-271-1577
  • Postdoctoral training: The George Washington University, 2008-2011
  • Lecturer and Project Scientist: University of California, Santa Barbara, 2007-2008
  • Ph.D., Human biology, University of the Witwatersrand, 2007
  • M.Sc., Physical anthropology, University of Witwatersrand, 2004
  • B.Sc., Medical cell biology & Human biology, University of the Witwatersrand, 2002
Awards and honors

2007, 2006, 2005 – Paleontological Scientific Trust Graduate bursary

2007, 2006, 2005 – University of Witwatersrand Graduate fellowship (Ph.D.)

2007, 2006, 2005, 2004 – National Research Foundation, South Africa Grant holder linked bursary (Ph.D.)

2004 – University of Witwatersrand Graduate fellowship (MSc)

2003 – Paleontological Scientific Trust Graduate bursary

2003 – Makapansgat Research bursary in Paleoanthropology

I am a broadly trained biological anthropologist and I use comparative anatomy to investigate the neuroanatomical features that underlie the evolution and behavior of large brained, social species. My interest in the brain and the evolutionary principles that have shaped it has seen me apply my knowledge to the study of several different taxa, ranging from humans and human ancestors to that of elephants, dolphins and even crocodiles. By casting a wide comparative net my laboratory deliberately seeks to embrace the diversity of brain architecture at all levels of analysis and to use knowledge garnered from this to help us better understand the emergence of the human brain and the biological basis for variation in brain function and disease liability.   As a secondary interest, I am also engaged in collaborative projects in medical education and forensic anthropology.

More information about Dr. Spocter’s research


Dell, LA., Patzke, N., Spocter, M.A., Bertelsen, M., Siegel, J.M., & Manger, P.R (2016). Organization of the sleep related neural systems in the brain of the river hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius): a most unusual Cetartiodactyl species. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 524 (10),2036-58. 2016 -link

Dell, LA., Karlson, K.E., Patzke, N., Spocter, M.A., Siegel, J.M., & Manger, P.R (2016). Organization of the sleep related neural systems in the brain of the Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). Journal of Comparative Neurology, 524 (10), 2018-35. 2016 -link

Dell, LA., Patzke, N., Spocter, M.A., Siegel, J.M., & Manger, P.R (2016). Organization of the sleep related neural systems in the brain of the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). Journal of Comparative Neurology, 524, (10), 1999-2017. 2016 -link

Dell, L.A., Spocter, M.A., Patzke, N., Karlson, K.E., Alagaili, A.N., Bennett, N.C., Siegel, J.M., & Manger, P.R. (2015). Orexinergic bouton density is lower in the cerebral cortex of cetaceans compared to artiodactyls. Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy, 68:61-76. 2015 – link

Spocter, M.A., Raghanti, M.A., Butti, C., Hof, P.R., & Sherwood, C.C. (2015). The Minicolumn in a Comparative Context. In: Casanova, M & Opris, I (eds.) Recent Advances on the Modular Organization of the Cerebral Cortex. Springer Publishing. 2015 – link

Patzke, N., Spocter, M.A., Karlson, KA., Bertelsen, M.F., Haagensen, M., Chawana, R., Streicher, S., Kaswera, C., Gilissen, E., Alagaili, A.N., Mohammed, O.B., Reep, R.L., Bennett, N.C., Bonfanti, L., Siegel, J.M., Ihunwo, A.O., & Manger, P.R. (2015). In contrast to many other mammals, cetaceans have relatively small hippocampi that appear to lack adult neurogenesis. Brain, Structure & Function Nov, 1-23, 2015 – link

Chawana, R., Alagaili, A., Patzke, N., Spocter, M.A., Mohammed, O.B., Kaswera, C., Gilissen, E., Bennett, N.C.,Ihunwo, A. & Manger, P.R. (2014). Microbats appear to have adult hippocampal neurogenesis but post-capture stress causes a rapid decline in the number of neurons expressing doublecortin. Neuroscience, 2014 – link

Butti, C., Fordyce, R.E., Raghanti, M.A., Gu, X., Bonar, C.J., Wicinski, B.A., Wong, E.W., Roman, J., Brake, A., Eaves, E., Spocter, M.A., Tang, C.Y., Jacobs, B., Sherwood, C.C., & Hof, P.R. (2014).The cerebral cortex of the pygmy hippopotamus, Hexaprotodon liberiensis (Cetartiodactyla, Hippopotamidae): MRI, cytoarchitecture, and neuronal morphology. Anatomical Record (Hoboken), 294(4): 670-700, 2014 – link

Manger, P.R., Spocter, M.A. & Patzke, N. (2013). The evolutions of large brain size in mammals- ‘the Over 700g Club Quartet’. Brain Behavior & Evolution 82 (1), 68-78., 2013 – link

Ngwenya, A., Patzke, N., Spocter, M.A., Kruger, J., Dell, L., Chawana, R., Mazengenya, P., Billings, B.K., Olaleye, O., Herculano-Houzel, S., & Manger, P.R. (2013).The continuously growing central nervous system of the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus). Anatomical Record (Hoboken) 296, 1489-1500, 2013 – link

Maseko, B.C., Jacobs, B., Spocter, M.A., Sherwood, C.C., Hof, P.R., & Manger, P.R. (2013). Qualitative and quantitative aspects of the microanatomy of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) cerebellar cortex. Brain Behavior & Evolution 81 (1), 40-55, 2013 – link

Spocter, M.A., Hopkins, W.D., Barks, S.K., Bianchi, S., Stimpson, C.D., Fobbs, A.J., Hof, P.R., & Sherwood, C.C. (2012). Neuropil distribution in the cerebral cortex differs between humans and chimpanzees. Journal of Comparative Neurology 520 (13), 2917-2929., 2012 – link

Maseko, B.C., Spocter, M.A., Haagensen, M., & Manger, P.R. (2012). Elephants have the relatively largest cerebellum size of mammals. Anatomical Record (Hoboken) 295,661-672., 2012 – link

Manger, P.R., Hemingway, J. Spocter, M.A., & Gallagher, A. (2012). The mass of the human brain: is it a spandrel. In: Reynolds, S & Gallagher, A. (eds.) African Genesis: Perspectives on Hominin Evolution, Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology. Cambridge University Press, 2012 – link

Štrkalj, G., Spocter, M.A., & Wilkinson, A.T. (2011). Anatomy, medical education and human ancestral variation. Anatomical Sciences Education, 4(6):362-365. , 2011 – link

Štrkalj, G., Ngo, A., Park, K., Kim, G.B., & Spocter, M.A. (2011). Chiropractors’ perceptions of the possible racial differences in response to a treatment: A pilot study. Studies on Ethno-Medicine, 5(3),149-151. – Link, 2011 – link

Maseko, B.C., Spocter, M.A., Haagensen, M., & Manger, P.R. 2011. Volumetric analysis of the African elephant ventricular system. Anatomical Record (Hoboken) 298,1412-1417., 2011 – link

Bianchi, S., Bauernfeind, A.L., Gupta, K., Stimpson, C.D., Spocter, M.A., Bonar, C.J., Manger, P.R., Hof, P.R., Jacobs, B., & Sherwood, C.C. 2011. Neocortical neuron morphology in Afrotheria: comparing the rock hyrax with the African elephant. Ann. N.Y.Acad. Sci. 1225, 37-46., 2011 – link

Spocter, M.A., Hopkins, W.D., Garrison, A.R., Bauerfeind, A., Stimpson, C.D., Hof, P.R., & Sherwood, C.C. 2010. Wernicke’s area homologue in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and its relation to the appearance of modern human language. Proc R Soc B 277, 2165-2174., 2010 – link

Sherwood, C.C., Raghanti, M.A., Stimpson, C.D., Spocter, M.A., Uddin, M., Boddy, A.M., Wildman, D.E., Bonar, C.J., Lewandowski, A.H., Phillips, K.A., Erwin, J.M., & Hof, P.R. 2010. Inhibitory interneurons of the human prefrontal cortex display conserved evolution of the phenotype and related genes. Proc R Soc B 277, 1011-1020., 2010 – link

Raghanti, M.A., Spocter, M.A., Butti, C., Hof, P.R., & Sherwood, C.C. 2010. A comparative perspective on minicolumns and inhibitory GABAergic interneurons in the Neocortex. Front Neuroanat. 4, (3) 1-10., 2010 – link

Wilkinson, A.T., Štrkalj, G., & Spocter, M.A. 2010. Should human variation be taught to medical students? In: Štrkalj, G. (ed.) Teaching Human Variation: Issues, Trends and Challenges. Hauppauge: Nova Science Publishers., 2010 – link

Schenker, N.M., Hopkins, W.D., Spocter, M.A., Garrison, A.R., Stimpson, C.D., Erwin, J.M., Hof, P.R., & Sherwood, C.C. 2010. Broca’s area homologue in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): probabilistic mapping, asymmetry, and comparison to humans. Cerebral Cortex 20, 730-742., 2010 – link

Raghanti, M.A., Spocter, M.A., Stimpson, C.D., Erwin, J.M., Bonar, C.J., Allman, J.M., Hof, P.R., & Sherwood, C.C. 2009. Species specific distributions of tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactive neurons in the prefrontal cortex of anthropoid primates. Neuroscience 158, 1551-9., 2009 – link

Dayal, M.R., Spocter, M.A., & Bidmos, M.A. 2008. Sexual dimorphism of the skull of black South Africans by discriminant function analysis. Journal of Comparative Human Biology: HOMO. 59, 209-221., 2008 – link

Spocter, M.A., & Strkalj, G. 2007. Darwinian medicine: An evolutionary perspective to health and disease. South African Medical Journal. 97, 1044-1046. , 2007 – link

Spocter, M.A., & Manger, P.R. 2007. The use of cranial variables for the estimation of hominin body mass. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 134, 92-105, 2007 – link