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Welcome to the McGowan laboratory in the department of Biological Sciences at the University of Toronto.

One of the great scientific debates of the 20th century was that of ‘nature versus nurture’. How much of our behaviour and physiology (our phenotype) can be explained by the DNA we inherit from our ancestors, and how much by the environment we experience? In the 21st century, we recognize that the two are linked together. This awareness implies a need to understand the whole organism beyond its parts, and that the environment provides a context that gives meaning to genetic information.

We use techniques in molecular biology, behavioural neuroscience, and functional genomics to study phenotype. A major focus of the lab is the role of epigenetic mechanisms that confer inter-individual variation in glucocorticoid signaling pathways. 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. Another major focus in the lab is the role of early life environmental adversity in altering brain and behaviour later in life via epigenetic mechanisms. We study a variety of organisms, from animals in the lab to wild populations and humans.


Our research is funded by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Connaught Fund, the Solve ME/CFS Initiative, the Falk Medical Research Trust and the United States Department of Defense.

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