Esther Leise

Esther Leise

Esther M. Leise

Professor Emerita

(336) 334-4957
418 Eberhart Building


Neural control of metamorphosis in marine molluscs, invertebrate neuroanatomy and neurophysiology.


Ph.D., University of Washington


Research in my laboratory focuses on the neural control of metamorphosis in the marine snail, Tritia (=Ilyanassa) obsoleta.   Adult Tritia bulldoze their way through the top layer of coastal mudflats where they are important agents of disturbance, but their larvae are tiny, free-floating planktonic organisms.  Metamorphosis is the developmental transformation that links these two different life history stages.  In their mudflat habitats, several species of single-celled algae, called diatoms, can trigger this life history transformation.  To determine how the larval nervous system regulates this irreversible developmental event, we have used a combination of anatomical and physiological methods.  We have learned that two neurotransmitters, nitric oxide and serotonin play opposing roles in governing metamorphosis.  More recently, we have investigated the actions of a third neurotransmitter, ɣ-aminobutyric acid, and its inhibition of larval metamorphosis.

Recent Publications:

Biscocho, D., Long, J., Washburn, J., Shah, N. and Leise, E.M. (2018) GABA is an Inhibitory Neurotransmitter in the Neural Circuit Regulating Metamorphosis in a Marine Snail. Developmental Neurobiology.

Leise, E.M., J. T. Washburn, J. G. Long, B. Bridgewater and N. Shah. (2014) Acidic Seawater can Promote Metamorphosis in the Marine Mud Snail Ilyanassa obsoleta. Journal of the NC Academy of Sciences. 130(2): 64-70.

Leise, E.M. and Cahoon, L.B. (2012) Neurotransmitters, Benthic Diatoms and Metamorphosis a Marine Snail, In Snails: Biology, Ecology and Conservation., eds. E. Hämäläinen and S. Järvinen, Nova Science Publishers, Inc. pp1-43.

Lancaster, J.L., Hellen, E.H. and Leise, E.M. (2010) Modeling excitable systems: Reentrant Tachycardia. American Journal of Physics 78(1):56–63. Selected for inclusion in December 15, 2009 issue of Virtual Journal of Biological Physics Research.

Leise, E.M., Froggett, S.J. Nearhoof, J., and Cahoon, L. (2009) Diatom cultures exhibit differential effects on larval metamorphosis in the marine gastropod Ilyanassa obsoleta (Say). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 379(1-2):51-59.

Gharbiah, M., Cooley, J., Leise, E.M., Nakamoto, A., Rabinowitz, J.S. Lambert, J.D., and Nagy, L. (2008) Methods for studying development in the reemerging model spiralian Ilyanassa. In Handbook of Non-Model Organisms. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold Spring Harbor, New York.


Cell Biology (BIO 355)
Cell Biology Lab (BIO 356)
Histology (BIO 472)
Neurobiology (BIO 479)
Neurobiology Lab (BIO 479L)
Advanced Topics in Cell Biology (BIO 504)
Advanced Topics in Neurobiology (BIO 507)
Metamorphosis (BIO 552)
Drugs & The Brain (BIO 573)