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Seminar Series 11: Lecture 6 - Bruce S. McEwen

21 Apr 2015, 4.30pm - 6.00pm

The Trades Hall, 85 Glassford Street, Glasgow, G1 1UH, United Kingdom


Experience shapes the brain across the life course: epigenetics, biological embedding and cumulative change

Professor McEwen described how the brain is the central organ of stress and adaptation to stress. The adult, as well as developing brain, possess a remarkable ability for structural and functional plasticity in response to stressful experiences.  Epigenetics is the word used to describe this seamless interaction between genes and environment.  

He outlined how stress response differs among individuals and reflects not only major life events but also the conflicts and pressures of daily life. Such stress can lead to a cumulative burden of chronic stress and damage health over the life course, varying with socio-economic status. 

He showed that while hormones associated with the chronic stress burden protect the body in the short-run and promote adaptation, in the long-run the burden of chronic stress causes changes in the brain and body that lead to disease. There are important sex differences in how the brain responds to stressors that are in urgent need of further exploration.   

Finally he argued that while prevention is most important, the plasticity of the brain gives hope for therapies that make positive use of brain-body interactions. 

Acknowledgments: MacArthur Foundation Research Network for Socioeconomic Status and Health and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child and research grants from the National Institutes of Health, USA and the Hope for Depression Research Foundation. 

About the speaker

Prof Bruce McEwen, The Rockefeller University, New York

Bruce S. McEwen obtained his Ph.D. in Cell Biology in 1964 from The Rockefeller University.  He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  He served as President of the Society for Neuroscience in 1997-98.   He served on the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health. He is also a member of the National Council on the Developing Child.  He is the co-author of a book with science writer, Elizabeth Lasley, for a lay audience called “The End of Stress as We Know It”, published in 2002, and “The Hostage Brain” with science writer, the late Harold M. Schmeck, Jr., published in 1994, both of which are now available as eBooks.

Bruce McEwen seminar

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