McEwen, Bruce S. 1938-

views updated

McEWEN, Bruce S. 1938-


Born January 17, 1938, in Fort Collins, CO; son of George (a professor of English) and Esther Lenters (a French teacher and homemaker) McEwen; married Karen Bulloch (a neuroimmunologist), 1996; children: Carolyn Ann, Sara Louise; (stepchildren) Scott Muryasz, Kimberly McGrath. Ethnicity: "White." Education: Oberlin College, A.B., 1959; Rockefeller University, Ph.D. (biology), 1964. Hobbies and other interests: Classical guitar, drawing and painting.


Home—597 River Rd. Hillsborough, NJ. Office—Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology, Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10021. E-mail—[email protected].


Neuroscientist. Institute of Neurobiology, Gothenburg University, Sweden, USPHS fellow, 1964-65; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, assistant professor of zoology, 1966; Rockefeller University, New York, NY, assistant and associate professor, 1966-81, professor of neuroendocrinology, 1981—.


National Academy of Sciences, Society of Neuroscience, American Society of Neurochemistry, Endocrine Society, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi.


Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1994; MERIT Award, National Institute of Mental Health, 1994; Jacob Javitz Award, 1995; fellow, New York Academy of Sciences, 1998; Honorary Sc.D., Oberlin College, 2000; President's Award, American Psychosomatic Society, 2001; Dale Medal, British Endocrine Society, 2001; Lifetime Achievement Award, International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2001; Archibald Byron Macallum Lectureship in psychology, University of Toronto, 2002; Edward J. Sachar Award, Columbia University, 2002.


(With Harold M. Schmeck) The Hostage Brain, Rockefeller University Press (New York, NY), 1994.

(With Elizabeth N. Lasley) The End of Stress as We Know It, Joseph Henry Press (Washington, DC), 2002.


(With James A. Ferrendelli and Solomon H. Snyder) Neurotransmitters, Hormones, and Receptors: Novel Approaches, Society for Neuroscience (Bethesda, MD), 1976.

(With Robert W. Goy) Sexual Differentiation of the Brain: Based on a Work Session of the Neurosciences Research Program, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1980.

(With H. Maurice Goodman) Handbook of Physiology: A Critical, Comprehensive Presentation of Physiological Knowledge and Concepts, Section 7, Volume IV, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Also contributor of "Hormones and Development" to a sound recording for the American Chemical Society, as well as numerous articles to professional journals.


Bruce S. McEwen is an educator and well-known researcher in neuroendocrinology, the study of how the brain influences and is influenced by the glandular and immune systems. Head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory at New York's Rockefeller University, McEwen is considered a pioneer in the research of steroid hormone action and the coauthor of The End of Stress as We Know It and The Hostage Brain.

McEwen earned his doctorate in biology from Rockefeller University, and began teaching at that institution in 1966, becoming full professor of neuroendocrinology in 1981. Collaborating with Harold M. Schmeck, McEwen published The Hostage Brain in 1994. Giovanni F. Misceo, writing in Contemporary Psychology, felt that "lay audiences will appreciate McEwen and Schmeck's presentation of the advances in modern brain science." The writers use, according to Misceo, "an upbeat writing style to discuss the marvels of the brain." For McEwen, the brain is an ever-growing and changing organ. The authors begin their account with the part that hormones play in sexual differentiation in the brain, looking specifically at the role of steroids and links to heterosexuality versus homosexuality. The endocrine and immune systems are also examined in this survey, as well as the effects of stress on the brain. In this regard, the authors examine not only the laboratory effects of stress on rats, but also those of posttraumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) on humans. In addition, McEwen and Schmeck also look at "a series of less related topics," according to Misceo, including memory, heredity, and biorhythms. Misceo concluded that the book increases "lay awareness of the benefits to be gained from brain science." Similarly, a reviewer for Wilson Library Bulletin found The Hostage Brain a "stimulating tour for the layperson."

With The End of Stress as We Know It, co-authored with Elizabeth N. Lasley, McEwen focuses on the stress response in the brain. The thrust of the book is that while a certain level of stress is inevitable and even necessary—as with the fight-or-flight reaction to danger—being overstressed by the pressures of modern living is not a healthy situation and can be avoided not only by better-targeted medications but also by maintaining a high level of physical and emotional health. McEwen initially examines the physiology of stress, showing the successive bodily reactions to a dangerous situation such as accelerated heart and lung activity. Yet with so much of modern stress, the situations causing such responses are in fact not dangerous in the larger sense. What McEwen characterizes as "allostasis" is the result of the stress response sending out energy to parts of the body that would be needed in times of self-protection. For McEwen, "allostatic load" is the system turning against itself, negatively affecting the heart, brain, and immune systems. There is either no foe to fight, or the challenge is not something you can simply run away from. But the system does not recognize such differences in stress; designed to protect us, it ends up wearing down our bodies in modern stressful situations. The authors then present what can be considered good news: there are things that can be done to prevent the stress response, including dietary and lifestyle changes, the use of rest and exercise, and the development of proper coping strategies.

McEwen's book on stress was widely praised, both in popular and professional journals. Laurie Bartolini, writing in Library Journal, concluded that "McEwen's book is skillfully written and will appeal to a wide readership." Likewise, a contributor for Publishers Weekly felt that The End of Stress as We Know It is "a good pick for students entering the field of neuroscience, as well as scientists in other fields who are seeking to learn more." A contributor for Science News commented that McEwen "shares some of what he's learned about the pros and cons of stress," while a reviewer for Nature Neuroscience noted that McEwen "tells a story rich with historical anecdotes.… [T]he authors contribute to a growing and welcome 'neuroscience you can use' genre." And a reviewer for had further praise for the title, commenting that "the message from McEwen … is that one does not have to fall victim to stress."



Contemporary Psychology, December, 1995, Giovanni F. Misceo, review of The Hostage Brain, pp. 1156-1157.

Library Journal, November 1, 2002, Laurie Bartolini, review of The End of Stress as We Know It, pp. 122-123.

Nature Neuroscience, January, 2003, review of The End of Stress as We Know It.

Publishers Weekly, October 28, 2002, review of The End of Stress as We Know It, p. 63.

Quarterly Review of Biology, December, 2001, Hugo S. Rosen, review of Handbook of Physiology, p. 535.

Science News, December 7, 2002, review of The End of Stress as We Know It, p. 367.

Wilson Library Bulletin, February, 1995, review of The Hostage Brain, p. 81.


Brain Connection, (September 16, 2003), Simon Hanson, "A Conversation with Bruce McEwen."

National Academies Press Web site, (January 27, 2003), The End of Stress as We Know It.

Scientific American Online, (January 27, 2003), review of The End of Stress as We Know It.