Lab Bio

About Dr Heidelberger


Dr. Heidelberger hails from the beautiful north shore of Long Island, New York.  She attended Stony Brook University where she earned her B.S., Ph.D. and M.D. degrees.  During her undergraduate years, Dr. Heidelberger worked as a research assistant for chemistry professor Dr. Paul C. Lauterbur.  Dr. Lauterbur’s research on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which would later earn him a Nobel Prize, was then in its infancy.  With Dr. Lauterbur, Dr. Heidelberger co-authored multiple abstracts on paramagnetic contrast agents and one full-length publication demonstrating that MRI could be used to detect malignancy in human tissue.

Dr. Heidelberger was strongly influenced by this amazing joining of physical science research with medicine and decided to enter the combined MD/PhD program.  She became intrigued with the nervous system and electrophysiological methods.

As part of her thesis work with Dr. Gary Matthews in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, she developed the retinal nerve terminal preparation that has become one of the mainstays for research in calcium-triggered neurotransmitter release (exocytosis).  In addition, she used quantitative fluorescence measurements of intracellular calcium and standard patch-clamp electrophysiology to provide the first characterization of the calcium influx pathway in a vertebrate nerve terminal.  She also examined the modulation this influx pathway by neurotransmitters and second messengers.  This body of work not only had implications for understanding how visual information may be modified as it traverses the vertebrate retina, but also set the stage for the study of general mechanisms of neuronal communication via chemical synapses.

During her studies, Dr. Heidelberger recognized that there are large gaps in our understanding of how the nervous system works.  She reasoned that this missing information was necessary in order for significant clinical advances to occur. Therefore, upon completion of the M.D./Ph.D. program requirements, Dr. Heidelberger pursued postdoctoral training with Nobel Laureate Dr. Erwin Neher at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany.  In the Neher lab, Dr. Heidelberger received training in state-of-the-art biophysical approaches.  She then applied these approaches to the study of neuronal function, publishing a seminal study on the calcium-dependence of neurotransmitter release.

Dr. Heidelberger has been on the faculty of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston since 1996, where she holds the rank of Full Professor.  She continues to apply biophysical approaches to the study of neurobiological questions.