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Christopher Cowan Ph.D.

Christopher W. Cowan Ph.D.

Chair, Department of Neuroscience

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  • Professor
  • College of Medicine
  • Neuroscience
Academic Focus
  • brain development and autism spectrum disorders
  • drug addiction
  • axon guidance
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Dr. Cowan joined the Medical University of South Carolina as the William E. Murray SmartState Endowed Chair in Neuroscience and as Vice Chair of the Department of Neuroscience in 2016. Dr. Cowan earned his BA from Wesleyan University (CT) and his PhD from Baylor College of Medicine. He completed his Postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital in the area of molecular neurobiology. He was a faculty member at UT Southwestern Medical School and Harvard Medical School prior to moving his lab to MUSC.


Dr. Cowan’s research laboratory explores the genes and molecular mechanisms that control proper brain wiring during development, and they seek to understand the roles of these molecules in the young and adult brain under pathological conditions, such as autism, intellectual disability, drug addiction, and depression. The lab utilizes a broad array of experimental approaches to gain a better understanding about the underlying regulation, or dysregulation, of healthy brain function, and they take an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to address these important topics for human mental health.


Drug Addiction:

The lab employs a range of molecular, genetic and behavioral techniques to understand how abused substances hijack brain function to promote addiction-related behaviors. Through identification of new molecules involved in addiction, we ultimately seek to develop these molecules as potential therapeutics for treating drug addiction. The lab studies multiple molecules that are recruited by illicit drug use and participate in maladaptive brain changes that associate with addiction-related behaviors. Ongoing studies seek to identify the cellular mechanisms by which these identified molecules influence persistent drug taking and relapse.


Autism spectrum disorders:

The Cowan lab has uncovered key brain development roles for several autism-related genes.  These molecules appear to work together during typical brain development to control the proper establishment of excitatory and inhibitory connections in the brain. Genetic abnormalities in these genes in humans often produce intellectual disability and autism-associated symptoms, and the lab observes similar symptoms in mice engineered to have disruptions in these same genes. By understanding the genetic and molecular underpinnings of autism spectrum disorders, the lab hopes to identify new therapeutic targets for treatment of autism, intellectual disability and related neurodevelopmental disorders in humans.