Michael Meaney

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Michael J. Meaney, CM, CQ, FRSC, (born 1951) is a professor at McGill University specializing in biological psychiatry, neurology, and neurosurgery, who is primarily known for his research on stress, maternal care, and gene expression. His research team has "discovered the importance of maternal care in modifying the expression of genes that regulate behavioral and neuroendocrine responses to stress, as well as hippocampal synaptic development" in animal studies.[1] The research has implications for domestic and public policy for maternal support and its role in human disease prevention and economic health.[2]

Meaney is Associate Director of the Research Centre at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Director of the Program for the Study of Behaviour, Genes and Environment, and James McGill Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology and Neurosurgery, McGill University. He was named a "Most Highly Cited Scientist" in the area of neuroscience by the Institute for Scientific Information in 2007 and was also elected to the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) and named a Knight of the National Order of Quebec. For research on stress he has received a Senior Scientist Career Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in 1997. He also, along with fellow researcher from the Douglas Institute Dr. Gustavo Turecki, was awarded the Scientist of the Year Award by Radio-Canada.[3] In 2011, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.[4]

Animal studies[edit]

Meaney specializes in [[obesity research, especially in its relation to walking stress. His initial research focused on the relationship between early maternal care and stress response in rat pups. Meaney and colleagues found that pups taken outside of their maternal environment to be handled for 15 minutes a day had lower hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) responses than pups separated from their mothers for 3 hours a day and pups with no handling whatsoever. He hypothesized that glucocorticoid receptor (GR) density was involved in the HPA feedback loop.[5] Meaney and colleagues later went on to confirm this feedback loop in research examining the effect of maternal care on GR expression. In this research, Meaney and colleagues separated mother rats into two groups: high licking and grooming (HLG) mothers and low licking and grooming (LLG) mothers. Pups of HLG mothers had a significantly greater density of GRs in their hippocampus than pups of LLG mothers. Further, this research—unlike previous research—established a causational relationship between maternal care and behaviroal epigenetic programing with cross fostering of pups by various mothers of differing maternal behaviors.[6] The causal relationship between maternal care and epigenetic programing was further solidified by studying estrogen receptor expression in the medial pre-optic area of the brain. This research found that HLG mothers create pups that are also HLG mothers even with cross fostering.[7] His early epigenetic research was instrumental in understanding the potential epigenetic research has for behavior in both animals and humans. Further, Meaney’s groundbreaking causational research in epigenetics is especially evident in his 2004 paper on GR expression as it is cited over 700 times by other authors.

Human studies[edit]

Meaney’s earlier research was important in providing impetus for applied behavioral epigenetic research in humans as well. His first human research compared suicide subjects with a history of child abuse to suicide subjects without a history of child abuse. Similarly to his rat study on glucocorticoid receptors, Meaney found that abuse victims had less expression of hippocampal glucocorticoid receptors than both non-abused suicide victims and non-suicidal subjects. This suggests that childhood abuse alters the hippocampus in a way that is related to suicidal behavior.[8]


  • Diorio J, Meaney MJ (July 2007). "Maternal programming of defensive responses through sustained effects on gene expression" (PDF). J Psychiatry Neurosci. 32 (4): 275–84. PMC 1911190. PMID 17653296.
  • McGowan PO, Sasaki A, Huang TC, Unterberger A, Suderman M, Ernst C, Meaney MJ, Turecki G, Szyf M (2008). "Promoter-wide hypermethylation of the ribosomal RNA gene promoter in the suicide brain". PLoS ONE. 3 (5): e2085. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002085. PMC 2330072. PMID 18461137. open access
  • Weaver IC, Meaney MJ, Szyf M (February 2006). "Maternal care effects on the hippocampal transcriptome and anxiety-mediated behaviors in the offspring that are reversible in adulthood". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 103 (9): 3480–5. doi:10.1073/pnas.0507526103. PMC 1413873. PMID 16484373.
  • Weaver IC, Cervoni N, Champagne FA, D'Alessio AC, Sharma S, Seckl JR, Dymov S, Szyf M, Meaney MJ (August 2004). "Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior". Nat. Neurosci. 7 (8): 847–54. doi:10.1038/nn1276. PMID 15220929.
  • Meaney MJ (2001). "Maternal care, gene expression, and the transmission of individual differences in stress reactivity across generations". Annu. Rev. Neurosci. 24: 1161–92. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.24.1.1161. PMID 11520931.


  • John T. Cacioppo; Gary G. Berntson; Ralph Adolphs; C. Sue Carter; Richard J. Davidson; Martha K. McClintock; Bruce S. McEwen; Michael J. Meaney; Daniel L. Schacter; Esther M. Sternberg; Stephen S. Suomi; Shelley E. Taylor, eds. (2002). Foundations in social neuroscience. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. p. 1357. ISBN 978-0-262-53195-5.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Researcher Profile - Michael Meaney, Douglas Mental Health University Institute". McGill University.
  2. ^ "CIHR program in Maternal Adversity, Vulnerability and Neurodevelopment (MAVAN) Douglas Hospital Research Center, Department of Psychiatry". McGill University.
  3. ^ "Michael Meaney, Moshe Szyf and Gustavo Turecki honoured for their work in epigenetics". News article from Douglas Mental Health University Institute. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
  4. ^ "Appointments to the Order of Canada". Governor General of Canada.
  5. ^ Plotsky PM, Meaney MJ (May 1993). "Early, postnatal experience alters hypothalamic corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) mRNA, median eminence CRF content and stress-induced release in adult rats". Brain Res. Mol. Brain Res. 18 (3): 195–200. doi:10.1016/0169-328x(93)90189-v. PMID 8497182.
  6. ^ Weaver IC, Cervoni N, Champagne FA, D'Alessio AC, Sharma S, Seckl JR, Dymov S, Szyf M, Meaney MJ (August 2004). "Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior". Nat. Neurosci. 7 (8): 847–54. doi:10.1038/nn1276. PMID 15220929.
  7. ^ Champagne FA, Weaver IC, Diorio J, Dymov S, Szyf M, Meaney MJ (June 2006). "Maternal care associated with methylation of the estrogen receptor-alpha1b promoter and estrogen receptor-alpha expression in the medial preoptic area of female offspring". Endocrinology. 147 (6): 2909–15. doi:10.1210/en.2005-1119. PMID 16513834.
  8. ^ McGowan PO, Sasaki A, D'Alessio AC, Dymov S, Labonté B, Szyf M, Turecki G, Meaney MJ (March 2009). "Epigenetic regulation of the glucocorticoid receptor in human brain associates with childhood abuse". Nat. Neurosci. 12 (3): 342–8. doi:10.1038/nn.2270. PMC 2944040. PMID 19234457.

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