Judith S. Eisen
Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: Neuroscience
Competition: US & Canada
The focus of Judith Eisen’s research is to understand the mechanisms underlying development and function of the vertebrate nervous system. As a postdoctoral fellow with Monte Westerfield at the University of Oregon Institute of Neuroscience, and later as a beginning assistant professor there, Eisen devised methods to label and transplant individual neurons and neural precuror cells in embryonic zebrafish, enabling her laboratory to provide new insights into the mechanisms involved in neuronal cell fate specification, neuronal differentiation, and axonal pathfinding. Eisen received many awards on the strength of this work, including a Searle Scholars Award, a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award, and a National Institutes of Health Research Career Development Award. Eisen’s research also helped to establish zebrafish as a new vertebrate model in which neural development and function could be studied for the first time at the level of individually identified neurons; this model is now widely used in many laboratories around the world.
More recently Eisen has expanded her research to investigate the role of resident bacteria, termed the microbiota, in development and function of the nervous system. She will pursue this goal by spending her Guggenheim Fellowship term working in two laboratories. In the laboratory of her University of Oregon colleague, Karen Guillemin, she will investigate host-microbial interactions, including assessing neural development in zebrafish reared in the absence of the microbiota they normally harbor and in the presence of specific microbial strains. In the laboratory of Joseph Fetcho at Cornell University, she will learn more about the types of electrophysiological and imaging techniques that will enable her to assess how the microbiota affect nervous system function. A deeper understanding of how the microbiota influence the nervous system will provide new insights into neural development and function and may have important implications for a better understanding of human health and the causes of some diseases.