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Anatomy and Neurobiology becomes Department of Neuroscience

New name formalizes broad discipline across neuroscience

by Caroline ArbanasMarch 10, 2016


Washington University’s highly regarded Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology – one of the original departments at the School of Medicine – has been renamed the Department of Neuroscience.

The new name formalizes the department’s focus across the discipline of neuroscience but does not diminish its long-standing commitment to teaching anatomy to medical students, said Azad Bonni, MD, PhD, the Edison Professor and head of the Department of Neuroscience. “Indeed, anatomy is in the department’s DNA,” he added.

The department has a long, rich history that dates to the late 1800s. It was established as the Department of Anatomy and was the only department to survive the 1910 Flexner Report, a harsh critique of U.S. and Canadian medical schools that called for reforms in medical education and more rigorous standards for admission and graduation.

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, PhD, 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.

With the new name, the department will focus its research mission on the neuroscience of brain development and function, with a special emphasis on understanding how neural circuits are assembled and activated. Another major emphasis will be on studies that bridge neuroscience and neuropsychiatry, particularly as the disciplines relate to intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorders.

Azad Bonni, MD, PhDRobert Boston
Azad Bonni, MD, PhD

Since Bonni’s arrival in 2012, the department has recruited scientists in developmental neurobiology, neuroepigenetics, imaging, behavioral neurobiology, systems neuroscience, evolutionary neurobiology and physical anthropology.

“We are building on a truly remarkable history and are poised to begin a new journey,” Bonni said. “The Department of Neuroscience has exceptional faculty and a new vision for making great progress in understanding the inner workings of the brain and the nervous system.”

Washington University School of Medicine‘s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Caroline oversees the News Team and leads efforts to cover and publicize research news. She worked as a newspaper journalist at the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock and the Idaho Statesman in Boise and as a freelance writer and editor before joining Medical Public Affairs in 2006. Caroline has a bachelor's degree in biology and a master's in journalism, both from the University of Missouri.