Jeffrey Laitman

Distinguished Professor Professor and Director, Center for Anatomy and Functional Morphology Professor of Medical Education Professor of Otolaryngology Mount Sinai School of Medicine Adjunct Professor Department of Anthropology The Graduate Center City University of New York


B.A., Brooklyn College M. Phil, Yale University Ph.D., Yale University



Tel: (212) 241-5622

Overview of Research

Our laboratory’s research focuses upon the comparative anatomy, development and evolution of the mammalian aerodigestive tract (upper respiratory, upper digestive, vocal) and contiguous areas of the cranial base.  Our laboratory has explored the functional anatomy of this region in an array of mammals - from rodents, to humans and our primate relatives, to whales.  Recently, in conjunction with colleagues, the laboratory has been supported by the Office of Naval Research to explore how the great whales produce their unique low-frequency sounds; and on how cetacean upper respiratory systems respond to underwater disturbances.  In the area of development, our group has made considerable strides in investigating change in the breathing, swallowing and vocalizing patterns of human infants.  This work has had implications for understanding both basic human anatomy as well as certain clinical disorders such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as Crib Death.  (Dr. Laitman’s work on the development of the infant aerodigestive tract was honored by the American Society of Pediatric Otolaryngology in 2000.)

Our research on the evolution of the aerodigestive tract has helped to usher in a new methodology that enables the use of fossil remains as a guide to reconstructing the vocal tract of human ancestors.  Our groups work in this area has shed light on the distinguishing features of our respiratory system, and has had particular implications for understanding the origins of human speech and language.  Our laboratory’s findings in these areas have frequently been the source of much discussion on how humans may differ from other groups such as Neanderthals.  Research on the evolution of the vocal tract and speech have been supported by the National Science Foundation, The Foundation for Research into the Origins of Man and The Speech Origins Fund of the American Museum of Natural History.  (Dr. Laitman was honored by the American Laryngological Association in 2004 for his pioneering work in charting the anatomy and evolution of the human aerodigestive region.)

Current Projects in our laboratory by our graduate and medical students, and collaborations both at Mount Sinai and other institutions, include: 1) Investigations into the biology and development of the primate nasopharyngeal area, and how this relates to the evolution of respiratory and vocal behaviors in humans; 2) comparative biology of mammalian sinus function, and relationships to the evolution of sinusal disease; 3) developmental change in laryngeal position in human infants, and the relationship to diseases of infancy such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS); 4) the comparative biology of the Neanderthal upper respiratory tract, with emphasis on understanding the relationship of their anatomy to diseases, such as sleep apnea; and 5) evolutionary effects of aging on biological systems.


Laitman JT, Heimbuch RC. The basicranium of Plio-Pleistocene hominids as an indicator of their upper respiratory systems. Am. J. Phys 1982; 59: 323-343.

Laitman JT, Reidenberg JS. Advances in understanding the relationship between the skull base and larynx, with comments on the origins of speech. Human Evol 1993; 3: 99-109.

Laitman JT, Reidenberg JS. Specializations of the human upper respiratory and upper digestive tract as seen through comparative and developmental anatomy. Dysphagia 1993; 8: 318-325.

Friedland DR, Eden AR, Laitman JT. Naturally occurring motoneuron cell death in rat upper respiratory tract motor nuclei: A histological, fast DiI and immunocytochemical study in the nucleus ambiguus. J. Neurobiol 1995; 26: 563-578.

Laitman JT, Reidenberg JS, Marquez S, Gannon PJ. What the nose knows: New understandings of neanderthal upper respiratory tract specializations. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 1996; 93: 10543-10545.

Laitman JT, Reidenberg . The human aerodigestive tract and gastroesophageal reflux: An evolutionary perspective. Am. J. Med 1997; 103(Suppl 5A): 3-11.

Balboni AL, Estenson TL, Reidenberg JS, Bergemann AD, Laitman JT. Assessing Age Related Ossification of the Petrooccipital Fissure: Laying the foundation for understanding clinicopathologies of the cranial base. Anat. Rec 2005; 282A: 38-48.

Laitman JT, Noden DM, Van De Water TR. Formation of the larynx: from homeobox genes to critical periods. In: Rubin JS, editor. Diagnosis & Treatment Voice Disorders . San Diego, Plural; pp3-20.

Marquez S, Laitman JT. Climatic effects on the nasal Complex: A CT imaging, comparative anatomical and morphometric investigation of Macaca mulatta and Macaca fascicularis. Anat Rec 2008; 291: 1420-1445.

Laitman JT, Reidenberg JS. The evolution of the human larynx: Nature’s great experiment. In: Fried MP, Ferlito A, editors. The Larynx, 3rd ed.. San Diego, Plural; pp19-38.