Daria Esterhazy, Ph.D.


  • Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology


PhD ETH Zurich, Switzerland
BA, MSci University of Cambridge, UK


The University of Chicago
929 East 57th Street
Chicago, IL 60637


Phone: 773.702.0402
Lab: 773.795.1917

Website (Department of Pathology)


Immunological niches in the digestive system

We study how immune homeostasis is maintained in the digestive system, and how its failure can lead to diseases such as food allergies, inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), autoimmune diseases and cancer. In particular the lab explores the possibility that there exist multiple immunologically distinct niches within the digestive system, studies how they are created by dietary, commensal colonization and infection history in the course of a lifetime, and what the systemic impact of each niche may be. We are analyzing the impact on the innate and adaptive immune system at the physiological, cellular and molecular level.

Gastrointestinal lymphatic system

One key aspect we are studying is the gastrointestinal lymphatic system and how compartmentalized lymphatic drainage along the gut helps create different immunological environment. For example, we have found previously that gut segment specific infection (helminths in the upper small intestine versus bacteria in the colon) leads to dysfunction of only selective lymph nodes. We are currently expanding our studies to other pathogens and members of the commensal microbiome, but also to different dietary regimes, as nutrients are taken up in a site-selective manner as well. Most notably, the lymphatics of the upper small intestine are responsible for the absorption of dietary lipids and other hydrophobic nutrients and molecules. Both lymph fluid composition but also lymphatic architecture are influenced by these environmental factors, and likely help create distinct milieus. This may help sustain homeostatic conditions, but also support the chronicity of pathological conditions such as the metabolic syndrome, cancers or IBD.

Pancreas and other branches of the digestive system

The digestive system also includes the pancreas, mesentery, and by extension liver, gall bladder, and the draining lymph nodes, of which several happen to be shared by these organs. We are exploring how the immune system of all these branches is influenced by gut luminal contents, and how it may communicate. This may occur via deliberate or inappropriate leakage of migratory immune cells, macro- and micro-molecules traveling through the interstitial space, common lymphatics or blood vessels. Through our studies we hope to better understand how for example gastrointestinal infections may trigger pathologies such as type 1 diabetes.

Techniques used in the laboratory

We used a wide range of techniques including microsurgery, lymphatic vessel cannulation, pancreatic islet isolation, live and light sheet imaging of the vascular and immune systems, single cell analysis, mass spectrometry, and genetic manipulation of mice.

View Research Papers on PubMed