Dr. Michael Meaney

  • Ph.D., FRSC, C.Q., C.M.
  • Co-Scientific Director, Ludmer Centre for Neuroinformatics and Mental Health
  • Director, Sackler Program for Epigenetics & Psychobiology
  • James McGill Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology and Neurosurgery, McGill University

Dr. Michael J Meaney is a James McGill Professor of Medicine in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology & Neurosurgery at McGill University situated at the Douglas Mental health University Institute. He is the Director of the Maternal Adversity, Vulnerability and Neurodevelopment Project. Meaney also joined the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences in 2008 as a Senior Investigator and leads the Integrative Neuroscience Program. Meaney was educated at Loyola College of Montreal and received his PhD from Concordia University (Montreal) with post-doctoral training in Cell and Molecular Neurobiology at The Rockefeller University. Meaney’s primary research interest is that of the stable effects of early experience on gene expression and development, focusing on the influence of variations in maternal care. These studies have led to the discovery of novel epigenetic mechanisms for the influence of early experience. Meaney’s research is multidisciplinary and includes studies of behaviour and physiology, to molecular biology and genetics. He has authored over 375 journal articles. Graduates from Meaney’s lab holds faculty appointments across North America, Asia and Europe, including Columbia University, Queen’s University, University of California at Berkley, University of British Columbia, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, the University of Toronto, INSERM (France) and the RIKEN Institute of Japan.

Michael Meaney is credited with launching the fusion of epigenetics and neuroscience. His highly original and innovative research used rodent models to measure how variations in early social conditions, especially maternal care, led to changes in the transcription of specific genes that regulate adult stress responses and synaptic plasticity. Subsequent studies identified key differences in DNA methylation in the promotor region for these same genes, and also showed that reversal of the epigenetic state reversed the changes in gene transcription and stress responses. The resulting paper, published in Nature Neuroscience, has become the most highly-cited paper in that journal. “Neuroepigenetics” is now one of the fastest-growing fields in neuroscience.

Working with post-mortem human brain tissue, Dr. Meaney and his collaborators have shown that the DNA methylation status of a set of genes first identified in rodents were similarly methylated in humans as a function of adverse childhood experience – essentially revealing a molecular imprint from childhood mistreatment. His lab is now pursuing next-generation sequencing analysis that will define epigenetic states across the genome in relation to environmental conditions in early life.

“These studies provided a biological framework for our understanding of the interaction between the forces of ‘nature’ and ‘nurture,’ wrote Eric Kandel, a Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University, adding that Dr. Meaney’s work has “profound implications for public health policy.”

With funding from Brain Canada, Dr. Meaney created the Canadian Neuroepigenetic Network, linking researchers at several Canadian universities, to focus on translating studies of the epigenome into clinical practice and prevention/intervention programs. He leads the development of integrative neuroscience as Associate Director of the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, where he is overseeing a birth cohort study that will track epigenomic variations in relation to neurodevelopmental outcomes. He also is the Scientific Co-Director of the Ludmer Centre for Neuroinformatics and Mental Health at McGill University, which aims to provide the computational resources to better understand the biological basis for vulnerability to mental disorders and provide an empirical basis for diagnosis and expected treatment outcomes.

Recognized by the Institute for Scientific Information as a “most highly-cited scientist” in the area of neuroscience, Dr. Meaney received the Kerman Award from Cornell University, the Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize from the Jacobs Foundation, the Distinguished Investigator Award from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, and was honoured as a Presidential Scholar by the University of California, San Francisco.

Research Interests

  1. Biological basis of vulnerability for psychopathology
  2. Biology of gene x environment Interactions
  3. Epigenetic regulation of gene expression
  4. Social influences on gene expression and brain development.

Articles Honours & Awards

Wilder-Penfield Award

This is the highest award for biomedical research, given by the Government of Quebec, which “goes to scientists whose research aims fall within the field of biomedicine. These fields include the medical sciences, the natural sciences, and engineering”.

Klaus J. Jacob Research Prize Laureate

The 2014 Klaus J. Jacob Research Prize Laureate has been awarded to Michael Meaney in recognition of his pioneering, cutting edge research on the biological mechanisms by which parental behaviour affects brain development and lifelong function. The Klaus J. Jacobs Awards is one of two international prizes presented to honour scientific achievements that are of exceptional social relevance in promoting the development of children and youth.The Jacobs Foundation attaches great importance to the practical application of scientific findings achieved through interdisciplinary research. The Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize also includes an award of one million Swiss francs, (1M USD).

Member of the Order of Canada

The Member of the Order of Canada recognizes a lifetime of distinguished service in or to a particular community, group or field of activity Fondation IPSEN International Prize in Neuronal Plasticity. It is awarded to researchers in recognition of outstanding contributions in the field of neuronal plasticity: development, synaptogenesis, aging, regeneration, grafts, growth factors.

Scientist of the year

The team from the radio show Les années lumière awarded the title of Radio-Canada Scientist of the Year 2009 to Michael Meaney and Gustavo Turecki for their discovery of the epigenetic effects of child abuse on the human brain.

Most Highly Cited Scientist in the area of neuroscience

He is recognized by the Institute for Scientific Information as a “Most Highly Cited Scientist” in the area of neuroscience. Member of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). The Royal Society of Canada (RSC) is the senior national body of distinguished Canadian scholars, artists and scientists. It is Canada’s national academy. The primary objective of the RSC is to promote learning and research in the arts and sciences.

Klerman Award

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) Awards Prestigious Klerman Prize to Innovators in Mental Health Research Presidential Scholar by the University of California. He is honoured as the Presidential Scholar by the University of California at San Francisco.

NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Award

He is awarded this prestigious award in recognition of his contributions to stress research.

James McGill Chair

The James McGill Chair is awarded by McGill to advance and support the scholarship and research of exceptional academic staff in priority areas of intellectual interest.

Patricia R. Barchas Award

He is presented the Patricia R. Barchas Award in Sociophysiology in recognition of the importance and sophistication of his research, from the American Psychosomatic Society. The Patricia R. Barchas Award in Sociophysiology, established in 1999, is to memorialize Patricia Barchas by furthering the field of sociophysiology, the study of the reciprocal relationships that could lead to long-term change both in social behavior and in physiology.

CIHR Senior Scientist Career Award

This award is presented by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for research on stress.