Carlos Montezuma Professor, Department of Anthropology
Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research
Senior Fellow, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research

Email: t-mcdade(at)northwestern.edu

Phone: 847-467-4304
Office: 1810 Hinman Ave., Rm 202


Ph.D. Anthropology. Emory University, Atlanta, GA
B.A. Biosocial anthropology. Pomona College, Claremont, CA



I am a biological anthropologist and human biologist, and my research investigates how social, cultural, and ecological contexts shape human development, physiological function, and health. Much of this work focuses on the long-term effects of early environments, the causes and consequences of health disparities, and the integration of biological measures into community- and population-based research settings. I am the director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research, and of Cells to Society (C2S): The Center on Social Disparities and Health.



Social epigenetics and the embodiment of early environments. Epigenetic processes are responsive to experiences during development and play important roles in regulating gene expression. A focus on epigenetics in community-based studies encourages us to reconceptualize the human genome as a dynamic substrate that incorporates information from the environment to alter its structure and function—an approach that moves beyond simplistic “nature vs. nurture” and “DNA as destiny” metaphors. Several studies are investigating epigenetic signatures of socioeconomic adversity early in life, epigenetic modifications to inflammatory genes as a mechanism linking early environments with inflammation in adulthood, and the social and ecological factors that predict gene expression during pregnancy.

Pathways linking social disparities, inflammation, and health within and across generations. Inflammation is an important part of normal immune function, but excessive or chronic activation of inflammation contributes to adverse birth outcomes, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic degenerative diseases. I am conducting research in the United States and the Philippines that investigates the social and developmental factors that shape the regulation of inflammation. Recent papers have documented significant impacts of stress, breastfeeding duration, birth weight, and microbial exposures in infancy on inflammation in adulthood. 

Human ecological immunology. Building on a series of theoretical papers, I am conducting analyses with data from studies in Bolivia, Ecuador, the Philippines, and the US which demonstrate the importance of ecological factors—particularly early in life—in shaping the development and function of the human immune system. Life history theory provides a framework for testing hypotheses regarding tradeoffs in immune development and function. In addition, these studies provide opportunities for investigating the impact of social, economic, and cultural transitions on health in remote populations.


Google Scholar page

  1. McDade, T.W., Ryan, C., Jones, M.J., MacIsaac, J.L., Morin, A.M., Meyer, J.M., Borja, J.B., Miller, G.E., Kobor, M.S., & C.W. Kuzawa. 2017. Social and physical environments early in development predict DNA methylation of inflammatory genes in young adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114: 7611-7616.
  2. McDade, T.W., Ross, K.M., Fried, R.L., Arevalo, J.M.G., Ma, J., Miller, G.E. & S.W. Cole. 2016. Genome-wide profiling of RNA from dried blood spots: Convergence with bioinformatic results derived from whole venous blood and peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Biodemography and Social Biology 62: 182-97.
  3. McDade, T. W., J. Borja, F. Largado, L. Adair, & C. Kuzawa. 2016. Adiposity and chronic inflammation in young women predict inflammation during normal pregnancy in the Philippines. Journal of Nutrition 146:353-7.
  4. McDade, T. W., M. Metzger, L. Chyu,  G. Duncan, C. Garfield, & E. Adam. 2014. Long-term effects of birth weight and breastfeeding duration on inflammation in early adulthood. Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B281(1784), 20133116.
  5. McDade, T. W., M. Hoke, J. Borja, L. Adair, & C. Kuzawa. 2013. Do environments in infancy moderate the association between stress and inflammation in adulthood? Initial evidence from a birth cohort in the Philippines. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 31:23–30.
  6. McDade, T. W. 2012. Early environments and the ecology of inflammation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109: 17281–88.
  7. McDade, T. W., P. Tallman, F. Madimenos, M. Liebert, T. Cepon,, L. Sugiyama, & J.J. Snodgrass. 2012. Analysis of variability of high sensitivity C-reactive protein in lowland Ecuador reveals no evidence of chronic low-grade inflammation. American Journal of Human Biology 24(5): 675–81.
  8. McDade, T. W., J. Rutherford, L. Adair, & C. Kuzawa. 2010. Early origins of inflammation: Microbial exposures in infancy predict lower levels of C-reactive protein in adulthood. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 277: 1129–37.
  9. McDade, T. W., S. Williams, & J. J. Snodgrass. 2007. What a drop can do: Dried blood spots as a minimally-invasive method for integrating biomarkers into population-based research. Demography 44: 899–925.