Bruce McEwen is a neuroendocrinologist and director of the Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University.
McEwen’s research focuses on the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of stress and sex hormones on regions of the brain. Besides stressors, his lab also investigates the neural and behavioral consequences of circadian disruption such as arises from shift work, jet lag, and sleep.
His lab’s work has helped create a new understanding of how the brain changes in adult life and in development and as well as the impact of stress on the brain and sex differences in normal aging, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We discovered one way in which the brain's ability to reorganise itself, its neuroplasticity, can be marshalled to protect it against some of the deterioration that can accompany old age." –Bruce McEwen
McEwen’s lab has found that chronic stress reduces the number of neurons in part of the hippocampus known as the dentate gyrus. In the hippocampus, the lab has shown that chronic stress causes neurons to undergo remodeling of dendrites, and excitatory amino acids are important regulators of this neuronal remodeling, acting in concert with glucocorticoids. The lab has also shown that age-related impairment of cognitive function can be reduced by treatment with riluzole, a drug that reduces glutamate overflow. "By examining the neurological changes that occurred after riluzole treatment, we discovered one way in which the brain's ability to reorganise itself, its neuroplasticity, can be marshalled to protect it against some of the deterioration that can accompany old age, at least in rodents,” said McEwen in an interview with The Telegraph.
McEwen has published more than 700 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals including Nature, JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, The New England Journal of Medicine, and Neurobiology of Aging. He has also co-authored two books: The End of Stress As We Know It and The Hostage Brain.
McEwen’s has also received numerous honors for his work, among them the Society of Biological Psychiatry’s Gold Medal (2009), MIT’s Scolnick Prize in Neuroscience (2011), New York Academy of Medicine’s Thomas W. Salmon Award (2015), and the IPSEN Fondation Endocrine Regulations Prize (2017).
He is former president of the Society for Neuroscience and is currently a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Medicine.