Research Interestsepigenetics, genetics, Brain, Behaviour, Gene-environment interactions during development and disease susceptibility, Endocrinology, Stress response, Human Models, Animal Models
Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough
Department of Cell and Systems Biology
Department of Psychology
Research Interests: A major focus of Dr. McGowan's lab is the role of epigenetic mechanisms that confer inter-individual variation in glucocorticoid signaling pathways in complex disease. Another major focus is the role of early life environmental adversity in altering brain and behaviour later in life via epigenetic mechanisms.
Keywords: Brain, Central Nervous System (CNS), Development, Developmental neuroendocrinology, Epigenetics, Fear, Fetal programming, Genetic expression, Glucocortioid receptors (GR), Hippocampus, Hormones, Human models, Hypothalamo-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis, Mineralocorticoid receptors, Molecular biology, Neuronal plasticity, Neuroendocrinology, Stress Stress hormones
A major focus of Dr. McGowan's lab is the role of epigenetic mechanisms that confer inter-individual variation in glucocorticoid signaling pathways in complex disease. Another major focus is the role of early life environmental adversity in altering brain and behaviour later in life via epigenetic mechanisms.
Social factors, infections, toxins and disease can all influence gluccorticoid signaling. As such, glucocorticoid signaling pathways act as sensors for environmental signals that affect a range of physiological functions from the response to stress to inflammation.
Dr. McGowan published the first study on epigenetic mechanisms associated with suicide and early adversity in humans and the first tiling microarray analysis of the influence of early environment on epigenetic and transcriptomic signaling in the mammalian brain. His group recently published the first study of genome-wide epigenetic changes associated with Chronic Fatigue/Myalgic Encophalomyelitis.
In his work with animal models, his research group showed that high fat diet exposure during development leads to altered glucocorticoid and immune signaling in adulthood in brain regions relevant for anxiety behavior. He is also studying the transgenerational epigenetic effects of variations in maternal care and prenatal stress in rodent models.
Cell and tissue culture: Neurons, peripheral blood cells.
Procedures: Behavioural tests, gene expression analysis, microarrays, qRT-PCR, RIA
Analytical balances, bench top centrifuge, culture hood, culture incubators, cryostat, gel apparatus, low- and high-speed centrifuge, low and ultraslow freezers, microwave oven, mini vortexer, real-time/thermocycler, setups for electropherosis, stirrer/hot plate, water baths.
Wilfred de Vega
Sophia Lavergne (EEB graduate student; co-supervised with R. Boonstra)
Outside the Department of Physiology:
Rudy Boonstra, Biological Sciences, University of Toronto, Scarborough
Suzanne Erb, Psychology, University of Toronto, Scarborough
Alison Fleming, Psychology, University of Toronto, Mississauga
Richard Tremblay, Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Psychology, University of Montreal and University College Dublin
Andrea Gonzales, Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University
Harriet MacMillan, Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University
Gordon Broderick, Nova Southeastern University
Publications and Awards
de Vega, W. C., Vernon, S. D., & McGowan, P. O. (2014). DNA Methylation Modifications Associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. PloS one, 9(8), e104757.
Suderman M*, McGowan PO*, Sasaki A*, Huang TC, Hallett MT, Meaney MJ, Turecki G, Szyf M. Conserved epigenetic sensitivity to early life experience in the rat and human hippocampus. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Oct 16;109 Suppl 2:17266-72. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1121260109. Epub 2012 Oct 8.
McGowan P.O., Suderman M., Sasaki A., Huang T.C., Hallett M., Meaney M.J., Szyf M. (2011) Broad epigenetic signature of maternal care in the brain of adult rats. PLoS One. Feb 28;6(2):e14739.
McGowan P.O., Sasaki A., D’Alessio A.C., Dymov S., Labonte B., Szyf M., Turecki G., Meaney M.J. (2009) Epigenetic regulation of glucocorticoid receptor in human brain associates with childhood abuse. Nature Neuroscience. Mar 12(3): 342-8.M
Sasaki A, de Vega WC, St-Cyr S, Pan P, McGowan PO. Perinatal high fat diet alters glucocorticoid signaling and anxiety behavior in adulthood. Neuroscience. 2013 Jun 14;240:1-12. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2013.02.044.