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Joy Reidenberg

  • PROFESSOR Medical Education
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  • B.A., Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences,

  • M.Phil., Ph.D., Mount Sinai Graduate School of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Training Program


    Joy S. Reidenberg, Ph.D. is a Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Dr. Reidenberg received a B.A. in 1983 from Cornell University's College of Arts and Sciences. She earned her M.Phil. in 1985 and her Ph.D. in 1988 in Anatomy from Mount Sinai’s Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences in New York. Dr. Reidenberg has also held appointments as a Guest Investigator at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and as an Associate Scientist at the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Reidenberg is a biomedical research scientist who studies comparative anatomy. She has examined a large variety of animals ranging from insects to humans, but her particular fascination is with aquatic animals. Much of Dr. Reidenberg’s recent work is focused on how animals adapt to environmental extremes. Current research is focused on the anatomy of whales, dolphins and porpoises, especially in understanding how they produce sounds and withstand the pressures of diving. Her anatomical research focuses on these animals as "natural experiments" from which we can learn about basic biomechanical relationships that affect all animals, including humans. Dr. Reidenberg is interested how these animals have evolved adaptations to solve problems we consider a survival challenge in humans. She hopes to learn from nature and develop protective/preventive technologies or new medical treatments for injuries and diseases based upon mimicking these adaptations. Dr. Reidenberg work has been federally funded by: Office of Naval Research, Department of Defense, National Oceanic Partnership Program, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Her research and scientific expertise has been featured in many science and educational television documentaries that have aired both nationally and internationally on PBS (USA), BBC (worldwide), National Geographic (worldwide, including Israel), NatGeo Wild (USA), Discovery Channel (USA & Canada), Channel 4 (UK), SBS (Australia), etc. Dr. Reidenberg’s most recent involvement is as the comparative anatomist for 18 episodes of the natural history documentary series Inside Nature’s Giants that examines the anatomy, function, and evolution of large animals. It has aired world-wide on National Geographic International, and in the US on NatGeo Wild and PBS. Inside Nature’s Giants has been recognized with many awards, including: British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award (the BAFTA is the UK equivalent of an Emmy Award), World Gold Medal Television and Film Award, Thompson Reuters Zoological Record Award for Communicating Zoology, Broadcast Award, and Royal Television Society Award. Dr. Reidenberg just completed a new 4-part documentary series that aired on PBS (USA) called Sex in the Wild, and on Channel 4 (UK) under the title Born in the Wild. Dr. Reidenberg has been featured twice in the British journal Nature: “Truly Gross Anatomy” (3 April 2008) whichdiscussed how she dives into whale carcasses to study their anatomy, and “Q&A: Prime Time dissection with Joy Reidenberg” (24 June 2010) which focused on her outreach teaching of anatomy through television. She was also interviewed in O, the Oprah Magazine in a full page spread on her unusual career in anatomy called “Inside the World of Anatomist Joy Reidenberg” (April 2011) and in the New York Times - Science Times, “From Inside Lions and Leviathans, Anatomist Builds a Following” (February 2012). Teaching is a passion for Dr. Reidenberg. Courses she has taught to medical and graduate students include: Structures, Human Gross Anatomy, Histology, Anatomic Radiology, and electives in Comparative Anatomy and Creative Visions, and she participates in several anatomy courses for surgeons, allied health professionals, and fitness instructors. Her energies in this regard have earned her teaching awards both within her institution and nationwide. She was awarded the highest national prize in her field (The Basmajian Award) by the American Association of Anatomists for her excellence in both teaching and research.


  • 2012 -
    Best Science/Nature Film category
    World Gold Medal, New York Television and Film Awards

  • 2010 -
    Highly Commended in the Best New Programme category
    The Broadcast Awards (London)

  • 2010 -
    Thompson Reuters Zoological Record Award for Communicating Zoology
    Zoological Society of London

  • 2010 -
    BAFTA Award: Best in Specialist Factual category
    The British Academy for Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award (equivalent of an Emmy Award int he US)

  • 2010 -
    Best in Science and Natural History category
    The Royal Television Society Awards (UK)

  • 2007 -
    Scholarly Achievement Award
    Center for Anatomy and Functional Morphology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine

  • 2007 -
    Scholarly Achievement Award
    Center for Anatomy and Functional Morphology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine

  • 2005 -
    Pre-Clinical Teaching Award
    Mount Sinai School of Medicine

  • 2003 -
    Excellence in Teaching Award
    Institute for Medical Education, Mount Sinai School of Medicine

  • 1999 -
    Basmajian/Williams and Wilkins Award
    American Association of Anatomists

  • 1998 -
    Recognition of Excellence in Science Communication
    World Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals

  • 1993 -
    Excellence in Science Communication Award
    Society for Marine Mammalogy

  • 1989 -
    Outstanding Doctorial Dissertation Award
    Mount Sinai Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences


Comparative anatomy of the upper respiratory tract in a wide range of mammals

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 directions we would like to take our research program include:

  • Comparative Anatomy: Investigate and compare respiratory tissue response to pressure change from natural (diving) and artificial (explosion) causes. Determine how diving marine mammals mitigate for decompression sickness. Understand how marine mammal lungs can vary compliance. Explore sound production/transfer mechanisms by aquatic mammals in air vs. water.
  • Development: Elucidate temporal/spatial relationships of branchial arches and normal and pathological development of skull/soft tissue relationships.
  • Human Clinico-Pathologies: Examine animals exhibiting posterior laryngeal protection (e.g., ruminants), create a similar artificial barrier (surgical or prosthesis), and develop an animal model of Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in which to test this barrier. If model is successful, further develop in collaboration with surgeons for human patients with GERD.
  • Evolution: Reconstruct evolutionary trajectories of aerodigestive tract.
  • Publications

    Landrau-Giovannetti N, Mignucci-Giannoni AA, Reidenberg JS. Acoustical and anatomical determination of sound production and transmission in West Indian (Trichechus manatus) and Amazonian (T. inunguis) manatees. Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007) 2014 Oct; 297(10).

    Butti C, Janeway CM, Townshend C, Wicinski BA, Reidenberg JS, Ridgway SH, Sherwood CC, Hof PR, Jacobs B. The neocortex of cetartiodactyls: I. A comparative Golgi analysis of neuronal morphology in the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), the minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), and the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Brain structure & function 2014 Aug;.

    Laitman JT, Reidenberg JS. The evolution and development of human swallowing: the most important function we least appreciate. Otolaryngologic clinics of North America 2013 Dec; 46(6).

    Cazau D, Adam O, Laitman JT, Reidenberg JS. Understanding the intentional acoustic behavior of humpback whales: a production-based approach. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 2013 Sep; 134(3).

    Foote KG, Hastings MC, Ketten DR, Lin YT, Reidenberg JS, Rye K. Sonar-induced pressure fields in a post-mortem common dolphin. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 2012 Feb; 131(2).

    Moalem S, Reidenberg JS. Does female ejaculation serve an antimicrobial purpose?. Medical hypotheses 2009 Dec; 73(6).

    Reidenberg JS, Laitman JT. Sisters of the sinuses: cetacean air sacs. Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007) 2008 Nov; 291(11).

    Balboni AL, Bergemann AD, Reidenberg JS, Laitman JT. Tuberculosis induced changes to the osseous cranial base and its potential effect on hearing. Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007) 2008 May; 291(5).

    Cooper LN, Dawson SD, Reidenberg JS, Berta A. Neuromuscular anatomy and evolution of the cetacean forelimb. Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007) 2007 Sep; 290(9).

    Reidenberg JS, Laitman JT. Discovery of a low frequency sound source in Mysticeti (baleen whales): anatomical establishment of a vocal fold homolog. Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007) 2007 Jun; 290(6).

    Cooper LN, Berta A, Dawson SD, Reidenberg JS. Evolution of hyperphalangy and digit reduction in the cetacean manus. Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007) 2007 Jun; 290(6).

    Reidenberg JS, Laitman JT. Blowing bubbles: an aquatic adaptation that risks protection of the respiratory tract in humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007) 2007 Jun; 290(6).

    MacLeod CD, Reidenberg JS, Weller M, Santos MB, Herman J, Goold J, Pierce GJ. Breaking symmetry: the marine environment, prey size, and the evolution of asymmetry in cetacean skulls. Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007) 2007 Jun; 290(6).

    Reidenberg JS. Anatomical adaptations of aquatic mammals. Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007) 2007 Jun; 290(6).

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

    Lipan MJ, Reidenberg JS, Laitman JT. Anatomy of reflux: a growing health problem affecting structures of the head and neck. Anatomical record. Part B, New anatomist 2006 Nov; 289(6).

    Balboni AL, Estenson TL, Reidenberg JS, Bergemann AD, Laitman JT. Assessing age-related ossification of the petro-occipital fissure: laying the foundation for understanding the clinicopathologies of the cranial base. The anatomical record. Part A, Discoveries in molecular, cellular, and evolutionary biology 2005 Jan; 282(1).

    Reidenberg JS, Laitman JT. The new face of gross anatomy. The Anatomical record 2002 Apr; 269(2).

    Reidenberg JS. Teaching the youngest anatomists. The Anatomical record 1999 Aug; 257(4).

    Laitman JT, Reidenberg JS. The human aerodigestive tract and gastroesophageal reflux: an evolutionary perspective. The American journal of medicine 1997 Nov; 103(5A).

    Laitman JT, Reidenberg JS, Marquez S, Gannon PJ. What the nose knows: new understandings of Neanderthal upper respiratory tract specializations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 1996 Oct; 93(20).

    Reidenberg JS, Laitman JT. Anatomy of the hyoid apparatus in Odontoceti (toothed whales): specializations of their skeleton and musculature compared with those of terrestrial mammals. The Anatomical record 1994 Dec; 240(4).

    Laitman JT, Reidenberg JS. Specializations of the human upper respiratory and upper digestive systems as seen through comparative and developmental anatomy. Dysphagia 1993; 8(4).

    Reidenberg JS, Laitman JT. Effect of basicranial flexion on larynx and hyoid position in rats: an experimental study of skull and soft tissue interactions. The Anatomical record 1991 Aug; 230(4).

    Reidenberg JS, Laitman JT. A new surgical approach to the skull base in rats. Laboratory animal science 1990 May; 40(3).

    Reidenberg JS, Laitman JT. A new method for radiographically locating upper respiratory and upper digestive tract structures in rats. Laboratory animal science 1990 Jan; 40(1).

    Lieberman P, Laitman JT, Reidenberg JS, Landahl K, Gannon PJ. Folk psychology and talking hyoids. Nature 1989 Nov; 342(6249).

    Reidenberg JS, Laitman JT. Existence of vocal folds in the larynx of odontoceti (toothed whales). The Anatomical record 1988 Aug; 221(4).

    Reidenberg JS, Laitman JT. Position of the larynx in odontoceti (toothed whales). The Anatomical record 1987 May; 218(1).

    Industry Relationships

    Physicians and scientists on the faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai often interact with pharmaceutical, device and biotechnology companies to improve patient care, develop new therapies and achieve scientific breakthroughs. In order to promote an ethical and transparent environment for conducting research, providing clinical care and teaching, Mount Sinai requires that salaried faculty inform the School of their relationships with such companies.

    Dr. Reidenberg did not report having any of the following types of financial relationships with industry during 2014 and/or 2015: consulting, scientific advisory board, industry-sponsored lectures, service on Board of Directors, participation on industry-sponsored committees, equity ownership valued at greater than 5% of a publicly traded company or any value in a privately held company. Please note that this information may differ from information posted on corporate sites due to timing or classification differences.

    Mount Sinai's faculty policies relating to faculty collaboration with industry are posted on our website. Patients may wish to ask their physician about the activities they perform for companies.

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