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Interview with Bruce McEwen

In this interview, Bruce McEwen talks about earning a Ph.D. (1959-1964) at The Rockefeller University and his exposure to the regulation of gene expression in Alfred Mirsky’s lab. Returning to Rockefeller in 1966 to work in Neal Miller’s lab, McEwen recalls the beginnings of the university’s Behavioral Sciences Program and tells the story of his discovery, in 1968, that there are steroid receptors in the hippocampus. In describing the evolution of his research, among other things, McEwen talks about neurogenesis and brain plasticity, allostatic load and allostatic overload, the effects of stress and sex hormones on the brain and the body, and the inseparable relationship between gene expression and one’s environment—all insights that he has been instrumental in forging.

McEwen also talks about his work with the MacArthur Foundation Health and Behavior Network and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child—and with his brother and sociologist, Craig McEwen—to bring basic research and social science together both to understand the cost to the brain and the body of early childhood adversity and toxic stress (a term he defines) and to affect relevant public policy to make people’s lives and health better. He concludes with thoughts on the satisfaction and challenge of being a scientist.

This short film is excerpted from the oral history interview conducted with Bruce McEwen on June 21 and 22, 2017.