The Department of Neuroscience began in the late 1800s as the Department of Anatomy, one of the first departments at the School of Medicine. The emergence of neuroscience as a discipline in the middle part of the twentieth century brought an evolution to the department. In 1975, under the leadership of W. Maxwell Cowan, MD, PhD, the department was renamed the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, reflecting its reach into the neural sciences.
Then, under the direction of Gerald Fischbach, MD, and later, David Van Essen, PhD, the department further expanded its focus in the neurosciences, paralleling a broad interest in the discipline across Washington University and other top universities throughout the country.
In 2015, the department was renamed the Department of Neuroscience to more accurately reflect this focus. Over the decades, the Department has contributed fundamental knowledge about the inner workings of the brain brain and developed innovative techniques that have opened up new lines of research.
Laying the foundations for Neuroscience at WashU
Before neuroscience found its footing as an established discipline of the life sciences, scholars at Washington University were making fundamental discoveries into the basic functions of the nervous system.
Nobel Prize-winning achievements in neuroscience at Washington University
Dr. is a global expert in the development of the brain, and in particular the connection between the two hemispheres, called the corpus callosum. Her lab has made major discoveries on the mechanisms governing the development of the corpus callosum and generated insight into disorders involving dysgenesis of the corpus callosum.
Before joining WashU, she was the Deputy Director (Research) at the Queensland Brain Institute in Brisbane, Australia. She is an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (FAAS), and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences (FAHMS).
Dr. Bonni is currently Senior Vice President at Roche where he is Global Head of Neuroscience & Rare Diseases at Pharma Research and Early Development (pRED). As Chair of the Department of Neuroscience, he oversaw tremendous growth and led the renaming of the Department from Anatomy and Neurobiology to Neuroscience. His laboratory studies the mechanisms governing neuronal connectivity during brain development and plasticity, providing fundamental insights into both healthy brain function and dysfunction in disease.
Dr. Bonni is a member of the National Academy of Medicine.
Dr. Van Essen is the Alumni Endowed Professor of Neuroscience at WashU. He pioneered the analysis of cortical structure, function, connectivity, development, and evolution in humans and nonhuman primates. Dr. Van Essen has served as a Principal Investigator for the Human Connectome Project (HCP), a large-scale effort to acquire, analyze, and freely share high-quality neuroimaging data from 1200 healthy adults, in order to enable exploration of brain connectivity and its relationship to behavior.
Dr. Van Essen was President of the Society for Neuroscience and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Neuroscience, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Dr. Fischbach is a Distinguished Scientist and Fellow at the Simons Foundation. He has served as dean of the faculty of health sciences at Columbia University, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and chair of the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Dr. Fischbach is a past president of the Society for Neuroscience and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.
Dr. Cowan was a pioneer of developmental neuroscience. He discovered the pruning of axons and culling of neurons that occurs as a part of healthy brain development. He also developed widely adopted techniques, including methods to map axonal connections and culture hippocampal cells.
Dr. Cowan was later provost and executive vice chancellor of Washington University and then vice president and chief scientific officer of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). He was president of the Society for Neuroscience and the founding editor of both the Journal of Neuroscience and the Annual Review of Neuroscience.
Dr. Dempsey was an early leader in the field of neuroscience, describing the electrophysiology of the forebrain. He later turned to explore metabolic function in the thyroid, uterus and placenta and expanded the applications of transmission electron microscopy.
Dr. Dempsey was Dean of the School of Medicine at Washington University from 1958-1964. He contributed his health expertise in numerous advisory roles to the US government.
Dr. Cowdry discovered parasitic diseases affecting humans and animals, including cause of heartwater disease in cattle, sheep, and goats named Cowdria ruminantium. He helped usher in the use of electron microscopes at the medical school and his research later focused on efforts to detect and treat skin cancers. He is credited as having had an influential role in the development of the field of gerontology.
He was editor of the textbook General Cytology, published in 1924, Special Cytology, published in 1928, and Problems of Ageing, published in 1939.
Dr. Terry initiated and assembled one of the largest skeletal research collections in the United States. In 1964, the collection was indefinitely loaned to the National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, where it still resides today.
Dr. Terry was well known among scientists in his field for the reforms he introduced in the teaching of human anatomy.
Outstanding women in anatomy and neuroscience
In 1946, Mildred Trotter became the first full professor at Washington University School of Medicine. Over the decades, she has been joined by numerous other accomplished women scientists who have made fundamental contributions to anatomy and neuroscience-related fields. Their stories illuminate the rich history of WashU’s neuroscience research and the trailblazing efforts of women to create a more inclusive science community.
These brief biographies were assembled by Karen O’Malley, PhD, with significant help from Mabel Purkerson, MD, WUSM physician and archivist, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary in 2001 of the Academic Women’s Network.
Former Department of Neuroscience faculty
|Ross C. MacCardle||1939-1941|
|Henry Gerald Schwartz||1940-1942|
|John Van Dyke||1942-1947|
|F. Clark Howell||1955-1956|
|W. Maxwell Cowan||1965-1979|
|David Menton||1967-2000; Emeritus 2001-2021|
|Joel Price||1969-2015; Emeritus 2016-|
|David Gottlieb||1976-2013; Emeritus 2013-|
|W. Thomas Thach||1975-2011; Emeritus 2012-2014|
|Theodore J. Cicero||1976-2017|
|Mary Ann Boyle||1983-1987|
|Glenn Conroy||1984-2017; Emeritus 2018-|
|Jane Phillip-Conroy||1984-2017; Emeritus 2018-|
|Joseph Henry Steinbach||1985-2015|
|James Cheverud||1991-2013; Emeritus 2014-|
|Ann Marie Craig||1998-2004|
|John McDonald III||2003-2004|
|Celia Santi-Grau Perez||2012-2018|