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Esther Borges Florsheim

Assistant Professor
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 7501
Assistant Professor
Faculty, TEMPE Campus, Mailcode 7501

Esther Borges Florsheim is an immunologist with core interests in how immunological defenses promote fitness and organismal survival. She studies allergies, mast cell biology, and neuro-immune interactions at the gastrointestinal tract to determine the impact of the immune system in physiology.

Dr. Florsheim earned one degree in Fundamental Sciences for Health (B.Sc., University of São Paulo) and one in Immunology (Ph.D., University of São Paulo). Her interests in ideas from across immunology and inflammation have led her on a dedicated research trajectory, performing undergraduate research on innate inflammatory responses to bacterial lipopolysaccharides and focusing her graduate research on the innate immune pathways required for the development of allergies. She completed her postdoctoral training at Yale University School of Medicine where she explored the neuro-immune and behavioral responses upon allergen sensing in the gut mucosa.

As a Principal Investigator, Dr. Florsheim aims to: a) transform the immunology field through a multidisciplinary approach, b) motivate the next generation of scientists interested in discovering the yet unsolved immunological mysteries, c) create an equal world in STEM.


2014    Ph.D.    Immunology                                      University of Sao Paulo

2009    B.Sc.    Fundamental Sciences for Health     University of Sao Paulo

Mast cells and neurons during gut inflammation

Mast cells and neurons during gut inflammation

Confocal immunofluorescence image of a mouse ileum during food allergy, depicting mast cells (pink) and neurons (turquoise).
Research Interests: 

Immunology is a rapidly growing area in the biomedical sciences and at the forefront of current research priorities. While progress in immunology has mostly emphasized defense strategies against pathogens, most of our knowledge on how immunological processes affect normal physiology remains poorly understood. The Florsheim Lab’s goal is to fill this gap and expand our understanding of the immune system as integral to the whole organism, uniting concepts from physiology, neuroscience, and animal behavior.

_______________________________________ OUR PROJECTS ________________________________________


               We use a multi-disciplinary approach to redefine

            the role of the immune system in health and disease.



I. Integrating mast cell biology and gastrointestinal physiology

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract, where most of the immune cells in the body live, is the largest site of interaction with the environment. Resident cells such as macrophages, dendritic cells, and innate lymphoid cells are fundamental to maintain the integrity and support this tissue demands. Mast cells are also endemic to the entire GI tract, but apart from their role in anaphylaxis, their contribution to gut physiology is unknown. Our group aims to determine how mast cells regulate GI physiology at a steady-state and during inflammation (food allergy, for example). GI physiology includes digestion, motility, secretory and endocrine functions. This research project provides new insights into the biology of mast cells as well as new therapeutic avenues to ameliorate inflammatory diseases of the GI tract.


II. Neuro-immune connections

The immune and nervous systems are the body’s main sensory interfaces that perceive and adapt to the environment. Despite the relevance of these two systems, immunology and neuroscience have been historically separate fields of study. Our group hypothesizes that certain immune cells (e.g. mast cells) form stable interactions with neurons to influence organismal physiology. Disruption or dysregulation of this module might be at the origin of inflammatory conditions. By leveraging technologies from these two biomedical fields, we seek to identify the cellular and molecular mechanisms of neuro-immune interactions at mucosal surfaces.


III. Brain circuits and behavioral outcomes

The best way to deal with allergies is to avoid exposure to allergens. This avoidance behavior is characteristic in allergy sufferers and essential for animals to prevent exposure to noxious substances in natural environments. Despite its significance, the mechanisms by which inflammation causes behavioral changes are mostly unknown. The Florsheim lab designs experiments to a) identify the brain circuits induced by immune defenses and b) characterize the behavioral responses to distinct immunological stimuli. Our approach has the potential to uncover unknown immunological mechanisms underlying neuropsychiatric conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.


__________________________________________ LAB MISSION __________________________________________


The Florsheim Lab welcomes scientists from underrepresented backgrounds. As a team,

we are committed to providing a diverse, inclusive, and supportive environment. We work

    together to help the next generation of scientists by focusing on career development,

               scientific integrity, and the pursuit of fundamental biological questions.



Highlighted publications

In this review article, we discuss food allergies from a broader physiological perspective, providing a unique framework to understand the origins of these mysterious diseases.

In this retrospective study, we analyzed the impact of chemotherapy hypersensitivity in the overall survival of ovarian cancer patients. Surprisingly, we found that patients who developed hypersensitivity and further received the standard desensitization treatment showed improved survival outcomes when compared with non-hypersensitive patients. This suggests that these types of immune responses might have a protective role in the development and progression of tumors.

This work characterized allergic responses to the occupational allergen subtilisin, a bacterial serine protease, and detailed the main innate immune pathways underlying subtilisin sensitization. Subtilisin revealed potent adjuvant properties to unrelated bystander antigens, suggesting that exposure to allergens with intrinsic activity (such as proteases) increases the risk to develop allergies to unrelated environmental proteins, which is likely the case for many known allergies.

We found that IgE induced by repeated exposures to bee venom PLA2 can protect mice from future challenges with a near-lethal dose of PLA2. This was one of the first evidence that allergies can be beneficial when not excessive and suggests that allergic defenses might play a physiological role.

In this work, we identified the allergenic activity of lipids in the development of nut allergy. It was one of the first evidences that lipids could function as adjuvants to induce allergic responses and the mechanism involved activation of iNKT cells.

Esther Florsheim’s full list of publications

Fall 2021
Course NumberCourse Title
BIO 492Honors Directed Study
BIO 493Honors Thesis
BIO 495Undergraduate Research
BIO 498Pro-Seminar
NEU 591Seminar
BIO 598Special Topics
Summer 2021
Course NumberCourse Title
BIO 495Undergraduate Research
Spring 2021
Course NumberCourse Title
BIO 495Undergraduate Research
Professional Associations: 

The American Association of Immunologists, member (2021-present)

PsychoNeuroImmunology Research Society, member (2020-present)

Graduate Faculties / Mentoring History: 

Graduate programs (2020-present):

  • Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Neuroscience

Ad hoc reviewer

eLife, Frontiers in Immunology, Nature Communications, The Journal of Immunology, PLOS One, The International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Mediators of Inflammation, Biomedical Journal.