Ronald S. Duman, Ph.D., a neuroscientist who illuminated the impact of stress on the brain and transformed our understanding of how antidepressants work, died unexpectedly on February 2, 2020 while hiking near his home in Guilford. Dr. Duman was 65 years old.
"Ron was a trailblazer for the field, and a beloved mentor and colleague at Yale,” noted Dr. John Krystal, chair of the Yale Department of Psychiatry. “He died at the peak of his productivity and scientific impact.”
At the time of his death, Dr. Duman was the Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Neuroscience at the Yale University School of Medicine and Director of the Abraham Ribicoff Research Facilities of the Connecticut Mental Health Center. He also played a central role in the National PTSD Brain Bank and the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Dr. Duman’s work shed light on the mechanisms through which psychological stress produces detrimental effects on brain structure and how antidepressant treatments restore the brain’s capacity for resilience, and in so doing, reverse the detrimental structural changes produced by stress. Over 34 years at Yale University, Dr. Duman and his colleagues characterized the molecular and cellular impact of psychological stress based on animal models and he studied the biology of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in studies of human post-mortem brain tissue.
He is best known for identifying deficits in nerve growth factor proteins after chronic or severe stress and the restoration of nerve growth factor proteins by antidepressants. He showed that antidepressants also restore the ability of a brain region involved in memory formation to generate new nerve cells in adult animals. More recently, Dr. Duman was the first to identify key neural signaling mechanisms responsible for the rapid and robust antidepressant effects of ketamine. In this work, he and his colleagues showed that ketamine activated neural circuits in a manner that enabled them to regrow synaptic connections between nerve cells that had been lost due to stress.
Dr. Duman received numerous honors for his work. He was a member of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine and recipient of two of the most prestigious prizes for mood disorders research, the Colvin Prize of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation and the Anna-Monika Foundation Prize.
Dr. Duman grew up in a loving and lively household of 7 children in the small town of Ebensburg, PA. The strong family bonds, integrity, compassion, and exemplary work ethic of his family community were embodied by him throughout his life.
A varsity middle linebacker, Dr. Duman graduated from The College of William and Mary in 1976. He then worked in the Biology Dept at The University of Notre Dame. There, to his delight, he nearly rented an apartment previously occupied by quarterback Joe Montana. He completed his Ph.D. in Neuropharmacology at the University of Texas in Houston.
Dr. Duman spent his professional career at Yale University. During his post-doctoral fellowship at Yale, he struck up a fortuitous partnership with another transformative scientist, Eric Nestler, M.D., Ph.D, now at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Together they launched the Laboratory of Molecular Psychiatry, one of the first research programs in the world to focus on the molecular and cellular biology of psychiatric disorders.
“Beyond being a consummate scientist, who made seminal discoveries in depression research, Ron had an enormous positive impact on everyone around him. He was uniquely kind, honest, generous, and thoughtful,” says Dr. Nestler. “Ron’s legacy will live on through the many dozens of students and postdocs whom he mentored over more than 3 decades.”
At Yale, Dr. Duman also met wife, Catharine Duman, a neuroscientist. They married in 1988. Dr. Duman is survived by his wife and two daughters, Katie Duman and Carolyn Duman.
Visiting hours will be from 4:00-8:00 pm Friday, February 7 at the Guilford Funeral Home, 115 Church St., Guilford.
A funeral Mass will begin at 10:00 am Saturday, February 8 at St. George Catholic Church, 33 Whitfield St., Guilford,