Michael D. Gershon, MD

  • Professor of Pathology & Cell Biology
Profile Headshot


Michael D. Gershon, Professor of Pathology and Cell Biology, has been called the “father of neurogastroenterology” because, in addition to his seminal work on neuronal control of gastrointestinal (GI) behavior and development of the enteric nervous system (ENS), his classic trade book, The Second Brain, has made physicians, scientists, and the lay public aware of the significance of the unique ability of the ENS to regulate GI activity in the absence of input from the brain and spinal cord. Dr. Gershon has published almost 400 peer-reviewed papers. Major contributions, which have relevance to disorders of GI motility, including irritable bowel syndrome, include identification of serotonin as a GI neurotransmitter and the initial observation in the gut of intrinsic sensory nerve cells that trigger propulsive motor activity. Dr. Gershon also discovered that the serotonin transporter (SERT) is expressed by enterocytes (cells that line the lumen of the gut) as well as by enteric neurons and is critical in the termination of serotonin-mediated effects. Dr. Gershon has identified roles in GI physiology that specific subtypes of serotonin receptor play and he has provided evidence that serotonin is not only a neurotransmitter and a paracrine factor that initiates motile and secretory reflexes, but also as a hormone that affects bone resorption and inflammation. He has called serotonin “a sword and shield of the bowel” because it is simultaneously proinflammatory and neuroprotective. Mucosal serotonin triggers inflammatory responses that oppose microbial invasion, while neuronal serotonin protects the ENS from the damage that inflammation would otherwise cause. Neuron-derived serotonin also mobilizes precursor cells, which are present in the adult gut, to initiate the genesis of new neurons, an adult function that reflects a similar essential activity of early-born serotonergic neurons in late fetal and early neonatal life to promote development of late-born sets of enteric neurons. Dr. Gershon has made many additional contributions to ENS development, including the identification of necessary guidance molecules, adhesion proteins, growth and transcription factors; his observations suggest that defects that occur late in ENS development lead to subtle changes in GI physiology that may contribute to the pathogenesis of functional bowel disorders. More recently, Drs. Michael and Anne Gershon have demonstrated that varicella zoster virus (VZV) infects, becomes latent, and reactivates in enteric neurons, including those of humans. They have demonstrated that “enteric zoster (shingles)” occurs and may thus be an unexpected cause of a variety of gastrointestinal disorders, the pathogenesis of which is currently unknown.

Email: mdg4@cumc.columbia.edu

Academic Appointments

  • Professor of Pathology & Cell Biology


  • Male

Credentials & Experience

Education & Training

  • MD, 1963 Medicine, Cornell University Medical Center, NY
  • Fellowship: 1966 Oxford University (United Kingdom)

Committees, Societies, Councils

  • Association of Anatomy Chairman (President 1985-86)
  • American Association of Anatomists (President 1995-6)
  • American Gastroenterological Association (Chairman, section on motility 1996)
  • American Society for Cell Biology
  • American Physiological Society
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • The Endocrine Society
  • The Society for Neuroscience
  • New York Society for Electron Microscopists (President 1977-78)
  • New York Academy of Sciences
  • International Society for Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cajal Club (President 1994)
  • American Society for Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics
  • The Harvey Society
  • Society for Developmental Biology

Other Positions:

Member NIH Study Sections, Neurological Disorder Program Project

  • Review Committee B, NINCDS 1973-75; Neurology A, 1980-84;
  • Clinical and Integrative Gastrointestinal Pathobiology 2007-2009; Clinical Integrative and Molecular Gastroenterology 2009-2011.

Member, Editorial Boards:

  • Past: Journal of Histochemistry and Cytochemistry; Neurochemistry International; Am. J. Physiol.; J. Comp. Neurol.
  • Present: Clinical Medicine: Gastroenterology; Synapse; Journal of Neurobiology; J. Auton. Nerv. Syst., J Neurogastroent. Mot.; Cell and Tissue Research; Gene Expression; International Journal of Tryptophan Research
  • Member External Advisory Committee, CURE: Digestive Diseases Research Center, University of California, Los Angeles, 1996-present
  • Member, Cure Autism New (CAN) Scientific Advisory Bd. 1997-present
  • Member, March of Dimes, Study Section

Honors & Awards

  • Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Epsilon Delta, and Phi Kappa Phi Honorary Societies
  • Polk Prize for undergraduate research, 1961.
  • Alpha Omega Alpha Honorary Medical Society, 1962, and President in 1963
  • Borden Undergraduate Research Prize, 1963
  • Polk Prize for highest academic standing, 1963
  • Sigma Xi
  • Markle Foundation Scholar in Academic Medicine, 1968
  • N.Y.C. Health Research Council Career Scientist Award, 1970
  • Grass Foundation Visiting Professor, 1981.
  • American Gastroenterological Association Council on Nerves and the Gut.
  • University of Rochester Outstanding Neuroscientist, 1983
  • Jacob Javits Award, National Institutes of Health, 1985
  • Dean’s Distinguished Teaching Award, Columbia University 1985
  • Camilio Golgi Medal: Fidia Research Foundation, 1986
  • State of the Art Lecture, American Gastroenterological Association, 1986
  • Association of Anatomy Chairman Tousimis Prize for Outstanding Research and contributions to the field of Anatomy
  • Medal of Francis I, Collège de France, 1990
  • Chair FASEB GI Conf. IV, 1991
  • Guest Editor, Special issue on The Neural Crest, J. Neurobiol. 1993
  • Cajal Club, President, 1994
  • American Association of Anatomists, President, 1995
  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (elected 1999)
  • The Henry Grey Prize (Highest award given by the American Association of Anatomists (2000)
  • Charles W. Bohmfalk Teaching Award, Columbia Univ. (2005)
  • American Association of Anatomists Fellow (2007)
  • Fourth Annual Charles F. Code Lecture, Mayo Clinic (2007)
  • American Gastroenterological Association Fellow (2008)
  • American Gastroenterological Association Masters Award for Sustained Achievement in Digestive Sciences (2008)
  • Horace Davenport Lecturer, American Physiological Society, Gastrointestinal Section (2010)
  • Rome Foundation Lecturer, American Gastroenterological Society, DDW (2011)
  • Elected to American Clinical and Climatological Association (2011)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Society for Neurogastroenterology and Motility (FNM2020)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Society for Neurogastroenterology and Motility (2021)
  • American Gastroenterological Association Distinguished Achievement Award in Basic Science (2022)


Research Interests

  • Cell Specification and Differentiation
  • Cellular/Molecular/Developmental Neuroscience
  • Synapses and Circuits

Selected Publications

  • Gershon, M.D. (1998). The Second Brain., Harper Collins, New York, N.Y., pp. 1-312.1
  • Chen JJ, Gershon AA, Li Z, Cowles RA, Gershon MD. Varicella zoster virus (VZV) infects and establishes latency in enteric neurons. J Neurovirol. 2011 Dec;17(6):578-89. Epub 2011 Dec 22. PubMed PMID: 22190254; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3324263.
  • Karsenty G, Gershon MD (2011) The importance of the gastrointestinal tract in the control of bone mass accrual. Gastroenterology 141:439-442.
  • Li Z, Chalazonitis A, Huang YY, Mann JJ, Margolis KG, Yang QM, Kim DO, Cote F, Mallet J, Gershon MD. (2011) Essential roles of enteric neuronal serotonin in gastrointestinal motility and the development/survival of enteric dopaminergic neurons. Journal of Neuroscience 31:8998-9009.
  • Gershon MD. Serotonin is a sword and a shield of the bowel: serotonin plays offense and defense. Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2012;123:268-80; discussion PubMed PMID: 23303993; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3540639.
  • Gershon MD. 5-Hydroxytryptamine (serotonin) in the gastrointestinal tract. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2013 Feb;20(1):14-21. doi: 10.1097/MED.0b013e32835bc703. PubMed PMID: 23222853.
  • Margolis KG, Li Z, Stevanovic K, Saurman V, Israelyan N, Anderson GM, Snyder I, Veenstra-VanderWeele J, Blakely RD, Gershon MD. Serotonin transporter variant  drives preventable gastrointestinal abnormalities in development and function. J  Clin Invest. 2016 Apr 25. pii: 84877. doi: 10.1172/JCI84877. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 27111230.
  • Gross Margolis K, Vittorio J, Talavera M, Gluck K, Li Z, Iuga A, Stevanovic K, Saurman V, Israelyan N, Welch MG, Gershon MD. Enteric serotonin and oxytocin: endogenous regulation of severity in a murine model of necrotizing enterocolitis. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2017 Nov 1;313(5):G386-G398. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00215.2017. Epub 2017 Aug 3. Erratum in: Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2018 Mar 1;314(3):G459. PMID: 28774871; PMCID: PMC5792212.
  • Chalazonitis A, Li Z, Pham TD, Chen J, Rao M, Lindholm P, Saarma M, Lindahl M, Gershon MD. Cerebral dopamine neurotrophic factor is essential for enteric neuronal development, maintenance, and regulation of gastrointestinal transit. J Comp Neurol. 2020 Oct;528(14):2420-2444. doi: 10.1002/cne.24901. Epub 2020 Mar 26. PMID: 32154930; PMCID: PMC7724936.
  • Naik RD, Vaezi MF, Gershon AA, Higginbotham T, Chen JJ, Flores E, Holzman M, Patel D, Gershon MD. Association of Achalasia With Active Varicella Zoster Virus Infection of the Esophagus. Gastroenterology 2021;161:719-721 e2. PMID: 33932481 DOI: 10.1053/j.gastro.2021.04.057, NIHMSID: 1700570.
  • Li ZS, Hung LY, Margolis KG, Ambron RT, Sung YJ, Gershon MD. The α isoform of cGMP-dependent protein kinase 1 (PKG1α) is expressed and functionally important in intrinsic primary afferent neurons of the guinea pig enteric nervous system.  Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2021 Mar 3:e14100. doi: 10.1111/nmo.14100. Epub ahead    of print. PMID: 33655600.