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.

Major neuroscience discoveries at WashU

Herbert Glasser, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Joseph Erlanger, Stanley Cohen

Laying the foundations for Neuroscience at WashU

Arthur Loewy and Washington University shield logo

Arthur Loewy and the central regulation of autonomic nervous function

Dr. Loewy worked over his decades-long career at Washington University to uncover connections between the peripheral and central nervous systems.

Department heads

Linda Richards

Linda Richards, PhD

Chair, 2021-present

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).

Azad Bonni

Azad Bonni, MD, PhD

Chair, 2012-2019

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.

David Van Essen, PhD

Chair, 1992-2012

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.

Gerald Fischbach

Gerald Fischbach, MD

Chair, 1981-1990

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.

Max Cowan

W. Maxwell Cowan, MD, DPhil

Chair, 1968-1980

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.

Edward W. Dempsey, PhD

Chair, 1950-1966

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.

Edmund Cowdry

Ed Cowdry, PhD

Chair, 1940-1950

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.

Robert Terry

Robert Terry, MD

Chair, 1900-1941

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.

Jean Holowach Thurston

Jean Holowach Thurston

Set standards for pediatric epilepsy research

Lee Nelken Robins

Lee Nelken Robins

Leader in the development of diagnostic criteria for psychiatric diagnoses

Mildred Trotter

Mildred Trotter

Developed formulas for estimating stature from bone length

Rita Levi-Montalcini

Rita Levi-Montalcini

Nobel laureate who discovered nerve growth factor

Sarah Amanda Luse

Sarah Amanda Luse

One of the first scientists to perform electron microscopy of the nervous system

Former Department of Neuroscience faculty

Robert Terry1899-1923
Paul Tupper1899-1923
Blair Vilray1899-1907
A. Ghilselin1901
William Coughlin1902-1910
James Abbott1905
Harry Moore1906
Victor Emmel1908-1915
Charles Danforth1909-1922
Frank Ewerhardt1914
Edwin Baumgartner1915-1919
Gaylord Swindle1917
Archie Bray1920-1921
Edgar Allen1920-1922
Beatrice Whiteside1922-1925
Mildred Trotter1922-1991
Bess Lloyd1922-1923
Forest Staley1922-1926
Edward Mastin1923-1933
Kehar Chouke1923-1924
Leith Slocomb1923-1938
James Lynch1924
Louis Harrison1924
Ranson Steven1924-1927
Cecil Charles1927-1970
Gordon Scott1928-1941
Caroline Whitney1928
George Williams1928-1948
James O’Leary1928-1946
Miriam Lucas1929-1935
Arthur Ham1930-1931
George Sieb1930-1941
William Brebner1930-1932
Walter Covell1930-1932
Alfred Lucas1931-1933
Edward Keyes1932-1933
Robert Bartlett1938-1945
Christopher Caruthers1938-1953
Ross C. MacCardle1939-1941
William Cramer1940-1945
William Simpson1940-1947
Robert Evans1940-1947
Henry Gerald Schwartz1940-1942
Ernest Gardner1941
Albert Lansing1941-1950
Valentina Suntzeff1941-1950
Stanley Leydig1942-1944
John Van Dyke1942-1947
Hamilton Robinson1943
Virginia Lanier1943
Meryl Miles1944-1947
John Finerty1947-1949
George Rowe1947-1950
Mary Ritchey1947
Robert Koch1948
Edward Kuff1948-1952
Theodore Rosenthal1947-1953
Eugene Roberts1947-1954
Edward Dempsey1955-1966
Edmund Cowdry1947-1975
Jack Davies1956-1963
Arthur Hess1955-1961
Roy Peterson1955-2004
Sam Clark1955-1967
F. Clark Howell1955-1956
Lorraine Lake1955-1979
Jules Weiss1955
Adolf Cohen1956-1995
Anthony deLoreno1956-1958
Goldine Gleser1956-1957
Harold Payne1956-1957
Duncan Chiquoine1958-1965
Keith Richardson1959-1961
Sarah Luse1960-1966
Estelle Brodman1961-1980
Bryce Munger1961-1964
Allen Enders1963-1975
Robert Laatsch1963-1970
Keith Smith1964-1965
W. Maxwell Cowan1965-1979
Milton Goldstein1966-1985
William Marovitz1967-1972
David Menton1967-2000; Emeritus 2001-2021
David Potter1968-1970
Joseph Grisham1970-1972
Mary Bunge1970-1988
Richard Bunge1970-1988
Leonard Tolmach1970-1986
Joseph Williamson1970-1974
Richard Bischoff1970-2002
Joel Price1969-2015; Emeritus 2016-
Thomas Woolsey1970-2013
Peregrina Labay1971-1974
Arnold Kahn1971-1974
Edward Jones1970-1982
Joseph Harvey1972-1976
Barry King1972-1977
Sandra Schlafke1964-1975
Donald Wann1972-1975
Joseph Hanaway1972-1979
David Gottlieb1976-2013; Emeritus 2013-
Judith Medoff1973
Madelon Price1974
Mark Willard1974-2006
William Crossland1974-1975
Mary Olson1974
W. Thomas Thach1975-2011; Emeritus 2012-2014
Theodore J. Cicero1976-2017
Boyd Hartman1976-1987
Thomas Tillack1976
William Frazier1976-1985
Arthur Loewy1976-2017
Anthony Jebb1976
Mary Johnson1976-1988
Francis Mithen1976-1978
Larry Swanson1976-1979
Patrick Wood1976-1989
Charlene Gottlieb1977-1982
Robert Waterston1977-2002
John Chirgwin1979-1985
Ursula Goodenough1979-2017
Steven Rothman1980-2006
Gerald Fischbach1981-1989
Elaine Rousch1981-1984
Clifford Saper1981-1984
Robert Almli1983-1988
Nobu Hirokawa1983
Mary Ann Boyle1983-1987
Mary Carlson1982-1989
Patti Nemeth1983-1990
Steven Adair1983-1987
Jonathan Cohen1983-1991
Joel Brown1984-1991
Glenn Conroy1984-2017; Emeritus 2018-
Jane Phillip-Conroy1984-2017; Emeritus 2018-
Stephen Highstein1984-2008
James Krause1984-1998
Antoinette Steinacker1983-1988
Lorna Role1984
Dale Purves1985-1989
Joseph Henry Steinbach1985-2015
Nancy Baenziger1985-2015
Jeff Lichtman1985-2004
Joshua Sanes1985-2004
Jonathan Covault1986
Cynthia Forehand1986
Robert Miller1987
David Harris1987-1989
Marc Schieber1987-1994
Dennis O’Leary1987-1991
Bruce Nock1987-2018
Gary Paige1988-1991
Nigel Daw1989-1991
Steven Petersen1989-2018
Christine Blazynski1989-1992
Thomas Fox1989
Keith Rich1990-2016
Martin Silverman1990-1994
James Cheverud1991-2013; Emeritus 2014-
Carmelo Romano1993-2004
Mark Goldberg1993-2004
Ernesto Molmenti1993-1994
Charles Anderson1992-1997
Rachel Wong1994-2005
Scott Steinman1993-1994
Daniel Silbergeld1995-1997
Yi Rao1995-2004
Luci Kohn1995-2001
Richard Brand1995-1999
William Snider1995-1996
John Csernansky1995-2007
Susan Fitzpatrick1995-2022
Jonathan Mink1997-2000
Min Zhuo1997-2003
Rosario Hernandez1997-2005
Randy Buckner1998-2005
Amy Bastian1998-2000
Ann Marie Craig1998-2004
Dora Angelaki1999-2010
Richard Brand1999-2004
Dwayne Simmons1999-2007
Greg DeAngelis1999-2004
Laura Dugan1999-2004
Jeffrey Neil1999-2011
David Dickman2000-2010
Ling-Gang Wu2001-2003
Jose-Angel Conchello2001-2002
Jeffrey Ojemann2001-2003
James Galvin2003-2009
John McDonald III2003-2004
Robert Sinclair2004-2009
Aguan Wei2004-2008
Vladimir Kefalov2005-2018
Paul Gray2006-2014
Gina Story2006-2012
Kwee Thio2006-2012
Naren Ramanan2007-2012
Timothy Hullar2008-2013
Daniel Kerchensteiner2008-2018
Celia Santi-Grau Perez2012-2018
Azad Bonni2012-2019
James Fitzpatrick2015-2022
Tomolo Yamada2014-2015
Michael Bruchas2015-2018
Carlos Ponce2018-2021