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Robert O. Heuckeroth, MD, PhD
Robert O. Heuckeroth
Research Director, Suzi and Scott Lustgarten Center for GI Motility

Dr. Heuckeroth investigates mechanisms controlling bowel motility in order to find new ways to treat, diagnose, and prevent intestinal motility disorders. He works to define genetic, biochemical, and cellular processes that impact bowel function, with a special interest in the enteric nervous system and intestinal smooth muscle cells.



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The bowel is nearly 30 feet long in adults, and every region must respond to local stimuli (e.g., nutrients and stretching) to optimally manage complex and unpredictable intake without conscious thought. Fortunately, the bowel has its own elaborate nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS) that responds to sensory stimuli and controls most aspects of bowel function.


The ENS has about 500 million neurons and two to five times as many glial cells. There are an estimated 20 neuron types that have distinct functions, neurotransmitters, morphology, and receptors. These ENS cells coordinate contraction and relaxation of the bowel, regulate blood flow, and influence epithelial function in response to local sensory stimuli. To perform these tasks, the ENS interacts closely with many other cell types including smooth muscle, pacemaker cells (interstitial cells of Cajal), enteroendocrine and other epithelial cells, muscularis macrophages and cells of the immune system, as well as with extrinsic innervation. When the ENS does not form properly or is not working well, profound bowel dysfunction may occur causing diseases like Hirschsprung disease, chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction syndrome, achalasia, and gastroparesis.


Dr. Heuckeroth's goal is to define molecular and cellular mechanisms that are needed for normal bowel function. He and his team aim to understand genetic and non-genetic factors that cause disease to enhance the ability to make diagnoses, develop new treatment strategies, and find ways of preventing bowel motility disorders from occurring in the first place.


Dr. Heuckeroth uses the most advanced approaches including model systems, sequencing, bioinformatics, stem cell biology, imaging, and regenerative medicine strategies. Current studies focus on ENS and smooth muscle biology, with many collaborative projects that span disciplines of medicine and biology.

Education and Training

BS, University of Maryland (Chemistry), 1983

MD, Washington University School of Medicine, 1990

PhD, Washington University School of Medicine (Biochemistry), 1990

Clinical Fellowship, St. Louis Children's Hospital (Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition), 1993

Research Fellowship, Washington University School of Medicine, 1995

Titles and Academic Titles

Research Director, Suzi and Scott Lustgarten Center for GI Motility

Attending Physician

Irma and Norman Braman Endowed Chair for Research in GI Motility Disorders

Professor of Pediatrics

Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology

Professional Memberships

American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1986-

American Board of Pediatrics, 1996-

American Gastroenterological Association, 1997-

Society for Neuroscience, 2000-

Society for Pediatric Research, 2000-

North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, 2002-

American Pediatric Society, 2007-

American Society for Clinical Investigation, 2008

Professional Awards

Lucille P. Markey Charitable Trust Fellowship Award, Washington University School of Medicine, 1993

North American Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition Young Investigator Award, 1995

Miles and Shirley Fiterman Foundation Basic Sciences Research Award, 1998

Glaxo Wellcome Institute for Digestive Health, Basic Research Award, 1999

Burroughs Wellcome Fund Clinical Scientist Award in Translational Research, 2009

Neurogastroenterology and Motility Prize for Basic Science, North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, 2015

Harvey R. Colten Award, Washington University School of Medicine, 2016

Publication Highlights