Joy Reidenberg

Professor Center for Anatomy and Functional Morphology and Department of Medical Education Mount Sinai School of Medicine


B.A. 1983, Cornell University M.Phil. 1985, Mount Sinai Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences, CUNY Ph.D. 1988, Mount Sinai Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences, CUNY




Overview of Research

Research in this laboratory examines the comparative anatomy, development, and evolution of the mammalian upper respiratory tract, particularly factors that may affect breathing, swallowing, and vocalizing abilities, or clinical disorders.

Our research focuses on upper respiratory tract anatomy in a wide range of mammals, with particular emphasis on cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises). Cetaceans are studied as a "natural experiment" to understand the evolutionary forces selecting for a highly modified upper respiratory tract adapted for an aquatic existence. Our current project is developing an atlas of mysticete (baleen whale) anatomy. As an extension of this interest, investigations are in progress to examine the controversial role of the cetacean larynx in sound production for communication or echolocation. Techniques include comparative dissection (including fieldwork at site of beach-stranded whale), histology, and imaging by CT or MRI. Our important findings in comparative anatomy include: discovery of a vocal fold homolog in whales previously thought to lack this, identification of the lack of posterior protection of the human larynx compared with other mammals and resulting exposure of the airway to incursions from the digestive tract, use of MRI and CT scans to appreciate hyo-laryngeal positional asymmetries in toothed whales that correlate with functional and behavioral asymmetries, impact of slow vs. sudden pressure changes on tissues of the respiratory tract in diving mammals. New insights into the origin of human clinico-pathologies related to the upper respiratory tract include defining the lack of posterior laryngeal protection from gastric juices as the major anatomical cause of respiratory tract insult secondary to Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

Future Research Directions:  We would like to explore applications to medicine, including: 1) Investigate and compare respiratory tissue response to pressure change in diving mammals and turtles, and mimic protective features to develop prophylaxis for explosion exposure. 2) Examine animals exhibiting posterior laryngeal protection (e.g., ruminants), and create a similar artificial barrier (surgical or prosthesis) for patients with Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). 3) Explore unusual lung anatomy (e.g., cetaceans, turtles, giraffe), and develop a method to alter lung compliance for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD, emphysema).


1.    Reidenberg, J.S. (2007) Anatomical Adaptations of Aquatic Mammals.  Anat. Rec. 290:507-513.

2.    MacLeod, C.D., Reidenberg, J.S., Weller, M., Santos, M.B., Herman, J., Goold, J., and Pierce, G.J. (2007) Breaking Symmetry: The Marine Environment, Prey Size, and the Evolution of Asymmetry in Cetacean Skulls.  Anat. Rec. 290:539-545.

3.    Reidenberg, J.S. and Laitman, J.T. (2007) Blowing Bubbles: An Aquatic Adaptation That Risks Protection of the Respiratory Tract in Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae).  Anat. Rec. 290:569-580.

4.    Cooper, L.N., Berta, A., Dawson, S.D., and Reidenberg, J.S. (2007) Evolution of Hyperphalangy and Digit Reduction in the Cetacean Manus.  Anat. Rec. 290:654-672.

5.    Reidenberg, J.S. and Laitman, J.T. (2007) Discovery of a Low Frequency Sound Source in Mysticeti (Baleen Whales): Anatomical Establishment of a Vocal Fold Homolog. Anat. Rec. 290:745-760.

6.    Cooper, L.N., Dawson, S.D., Reidenberg, J.S., and Berta, A. (2007) Neuromuscular Anatomy and Evolution of the Cetacean Forelimb. Anat. Rec. 290:1121-1137.

7.    Marino L, Connor RC, Fordyce, RE, Herman LM, Hof PR, Lefebvre L, Lusseau, McCowan B, Nimchinsky EA, Pack AA, Rendell L, Reidenberg JS, Reiss D, Uhen MD, Van der Gucht E, Whitehead H. (2007) Cetaceans have complex brains for complex cognition. PLOS Biol 5(5):e139.

8.    Marino, L., Butti, C., Connor, R.C., Fordyce, R.E., Herman, L.M., Hof, P.R., Lefebvre, L., Lusseau, D., McCowan, B., Nimchinsky, E.A., Pack, A.A., Reidenberg, J.S., Reiss, D., Rendell, L., Uhen, M.D., Van der Gucht, E., Whitehead, H. (2008) A claim in search of evidence: Reply to Manger’s thermogenesis hypothesis of cetacean brain structure. Biol. Rev., Cambridge Phil. Soc., 83: 417-440.

9.    Balboni, A.L., Bergemann, A.D., Reidenberg, J.S., Laitman, J.T. (2008) Tuberculosis induced changes to the osseous cranial base and its potential effect on hearing.  Anatomical Record, 291(5):488-490.

10.    Reidenberg, J.S. and Laitman, J.T. (2008) Sisters of the Sinuses: Cetacean Air Sacs. Anat. Rec. 291:1389-1396.

11.    Mignucci-Giannoni, A.A., Rosario-Delestre, R.J., Alsina-Guerrero, M.M., Falcón-Matos, L., Guzmán-Ramírez, L., Williams, Jr., E.H., Bossart, G.D., Reidenberg, J.S. (2009) Asphyxiation in a Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) from Puerto Rico due to Choking on a Black Margate (Anisotremus surinamensis).  Aquatic Mammals 35(1):48-54.

12.    Moalem, S. and Reidenberg, J.S. (2009) Does female ejaculation serve an antimicrobial purpose? Medical Hypothesis 73(6):1069-1071.

13.    Laitman, J.T. and Reidenberg, J.S.  (2009) The evolution of the human larynx: Nature's great experiment.  In: The Larynx, 3rd Edition, Vol. 1.  M.P. Fried and A. Ferlito (eds.), Plural Publishing, San Diego, CA, p.19-38.

14.    Som, P.M., Smoker, W.R., Curtin, H.D., Reidenberg, J.S., and Laitman, J.T. (2009) Embryology and Anatomy of the Neck.  In: Head and Neck Imaging, 5th Edition.  P.M. Som and H.D. Curtin (eds.), Mosby, New York. in press.

15.    Som, P.M., Smoker, W.R., Curtin, H.D., Reidenberg, J.S., and Laitman, J.T. (2009) Congenital Lesions.  In: Head and Neck Imaging, 5th Edition.  P.M. Som and H.D. Curtin (eds.), Mosby, New York.  In press.

16.    Reidenberg, J.S. and Laitman, J.T. (2009) Cetacean Prenatal Development.  In: Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, 2nd Edition.  W.F. Perrin, B. Wursig, and H.G.M. Thewissen (eds.), Academic Press, San Diego, pp. 220-230.,M1

17.    Reidenberg, J.S. and Laitman, J.T. (2010) Generation of sound in marine mammals, In: Handbook of Mammalian Vocalization – An Integrative Neuroscience Approach, S.M. Brudzynski (ed.), Academic Press/Elsevier, London, chapter 10.4, p 451-465.