Allen W. Cowley, Jr.

70th APS President (1997-1998)
Allen W. Cowley, Jr.
(b. 1940)


Allen W. Cowley, Jr. was installed as the 70th President of the American Physiological Society at the close of the Society's Spring Meeting this April in New Orleans, LA.

Cowley was appointed as professor and chairman of the Department of Physiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in 1980. He completed his PhD degree training in physiology in 1968 with John Scott at Hahnemann Medical School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He then joined Arthur Guyton at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and completed his postdoctoral training in 1970. He continued in that department and was promoted to full professor in 1974. He was visiting professor of physiology at Harvard Medical School in 1974 and 1975, working with Clifford Barger and Claude Lechene.

The central theme of most of his research has been related to the study of renal and vascular mechanisms involved in the long-term control of arterial pressure. His early work on the baroreceptor reflexes in dogs demonstrated that the baroreceptors participated in only short-term stabilization of arterial blood pressure and did not determine the long-term set point around which arterial pressure oscillated. He pioneered the use of continuous, 24-hour recording techniques coupled with computer averaging to quantify long-term average levels of arterial blood pressure and demonstrated that sinoaortic baroreceptor denervation did not alter the average level of blood pressure. His work with the renin angiotensin system was the first to quantitate the ability of the system to normalize changes in arterial pressure by determination of the open-loop feedback gain of this control system.

Redirecting his studies related to the role of vasopressin and the regulation of vascular tone, he demonstrated that small, physiological increases of circulating arginine vasopressin could exert potent, systemic vasoconstrictor facts in the absence of the baroreceptors reflexes. He then characterized the open-loop feedback gain of this pressure control system and demonstrated that vasopressin was an important short-term controller of arterial blood pressure with a feedback gain equivalent to that of the baroreceptor reflexes and the renin-angiotensin system.

Much of Cowley's work has revolved around mechanisms involved in the long-term control of sodium and water balance and the long-term control of arterial blood pressure in chronically instrumented dogs and rats. Much of his work has focused on achieving an understanding of the relationship between body fluid volume and arterial pressure regulation and the integration of these two elements. Studies in his laboratory and his collaborations uncovered the mechanism of pressure-natriuresis and directly demonstrated that this mechanism is reset in every form of hypertension yet studied. Studies in his research program have shown the mechanisms, whereby a reduction of renal function and volume expansion leads to an increase in systemic vascular resistance via local autoregulatory responses. His work established that chronic elevations of blood volume as small as 5% result in locally induced increases of vascular resistance and hypertension in the presence of reduced renal function.

His most recent research has focused on the role of the renal medulla and the consequences of changes of medullary blood flow to this region upon sodium excretion and arterial blood pressure and on searching for quantitative trait genetic loci related to the alterations of renal and vascular function in inbred, genetic models of hypertension. The applications of molecular genetics to the understanding of physiological function represents the central theme of most of his current research.

Cowley has authored more than 170 publications and has contributed chapters to 30 books. He has been an active member of the American Physiological Society since 1972, serving as Councillor for the Society for five years, chairman of the Water and Electrolyte Homeostasis Section, and secretary of the Cardiovascular Section. He has also served on the executive councils of several other scientific societies, including the American Heart Association Council for High Blood Pressure Research, the AHA Basic Science Council, and the Inter-American Society of Hypertension. He has served as chairman for the Council of High Blood Pressure Research of the American Heart Association and as president of the Association of Chairmen of Departments of Physiology. He has served on numerous NIH study sections and has served on more than 10 editorial boards including three journals of the American Physiological Society.

Cowley is currently the director of the NIH Specialized Center for Hypertension Research at the Medical College of Wisconsin, which has as its emphasis on the search for genes responsible for high blood pressure. He is the director of a NIH training grant in high blood pressure research and, throughout his career, has trained more than thirty postdoctoral fellows and students. He recently received the Distinguished Achievement Award of the Scientific Councils of the American Heart Association and became the first Earnest H. Starling Distinguished Lecturer of the American Physiological Society.