Bruce McEwen, 81, Is Dead; Found Stress Can Alter the Brain


Dr. McEwen discussed allostatic load in 2000 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, writing:

“In anxiety disorders, depressive illness, hostile and aggressive states, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), allostatic load takes the form of chemical imbalances as well as perturbations in the diurnal rhythm, and, in some cases, atrophy of brain structures.

“In addition,” he went on, “growing evidence indicates that depressive illness and hostility are both associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and other systemic disorders. A major risk factor for these conditions is early childhood experiences of abuse and neglect that increase allostatic load later in life and lead individuals into social isolation, hostility, depression and conditions like extreme obesity and CVD.”

By the end of his career Dr. McEwen had expanded his research to look at the impact of stress on communities, finding that chronic stress disproportionally affected marginalized people and increased their risk of illnesses.

Five years ago, he teamed up with his brother, Craig McEwen, a professor emeritus of sociology at Bowdoin College in Maine, to study the sociological implications of chronic stress.

“We know that environmental complexity changes the brain,” Bruce McEwen said in an interview recorded by Rockefeller University, and that it “comes to haunt us in terms of socioeconomic status, poverty and things of that sort.”

At his death — caused by complications of a stroke, a Rockefeller spokeswoman said — Dr. McEwen was the Alfred E. Mirsky professor and head of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at the university.

He published more than 1,000 scientific articles, and his work has been cited in others more than 130,000 times. He also wrote popular books, including “The Hostage Brain” (1994), about how the brain can be overtaken by both external and internal forces, written with Harold M. Schmeck Jr., then a science reporter for The New York Times; and “The End of Stress as We Know It” (2002, with Elizabeth Norton Lasley).


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