Dr. Steven Zeisel

Steven Zeisel, MD, PhD

Professor Emeritus
Department of Nutrition


Dr. Zeisel and his research team focus on the essential nutrient choline and why there are individual differences in nutrient metabolism, using new approaches in nutrigenomics and in metabolomics. The team works with humans, mice and cell culture model systems. Using our human studies we discovered that there are very common single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs; gene misspellings) that make humans require more dietary choline and that one of these is in the gene PEMT and prevents estrogen from inducing the gene. We are collaborating in a number of epidemiology studies that examine the relationship between diet, these gene SNPs, and risk for disease. After identifying a SNP of interest in humans we make a mouse model and now have three such knockouts. One of them develops mitochondrial abnormalities and has immotile sperm. We are conducting studies in humans on this SNP. In another study, we examine choline’s role in brain development and discovered that choline is critical for cortical and hippocampal development. We study mouse models and neural progenitor cells in culture to identify the molecular mechanism for choline’s effect on brain.  

Representative Courses

Elements of Being a Scientist 880

Key Publications

Aberrant estrogen regulation of PEMT results in choline deficiency-associated liver dysfunction. Kerry-Ann Costa, Ian Davis, Joseph Galanko, Mukund Patel, Mary Resseguie, Steven Zeisel (2011). Journal of Biological Chemistry, 286(2), 1649-1658.

Deletion of betaine-homocysteine S-methyltransferase in mice perturbs choline and 1-carbon metabolism, resulting in fatty liver and hepatocellular carcinomas. Timothy Garrow, Mihai Mehedint, Ya-Wen Teng, Steven Zeisel (2011). Journal of Biological Chemistry, 286(42), 36258-36267.

Evidence for negative selection of gene variants that increase dependence on dietary choline in a Gambian cohort. K Corbin, K da Costa, P Dominguez-Salas, G Hellenthal, B Hennig, S Moore, J Owen, A Prentice, M Silver, S Zeisel (2015). FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Identification of new genetic polymorphisms that alter the dietary requirement for choline and vary in their distribution across ethnic and racial groups. Karen Corbin, K Corbin, Kerry-Ann Costa, K da Costa, Joseph Galanko, J Galanko, Mihai Niculescu, M Niculescu, Steven Zeisel, S Zeisel (2014). FASEB Journal, 28(7), 2970-2978.

Mouse betaine-homocysteine S-methyltransferase deficiency reduces body fat via increasing energy expenditure and impairing lipid synthesis and enhancing glucose oxidation in white adipose tissue. Rosalind Coleman, Jessica Ellis, Ya-Wen Teng, Steven Zeisel (2012). Journal of Biological Chemistry, 287(20), 16187-16198.


  • Postdoc, Neurochemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1981
  • Fellow for Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Human Nutrition, Children's Hospital Medical Center, Boston, 1981
  • PhD, Nutrition, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1980
  • Residency, Pediatrics, Yale University, 1977
  • MD, Medicine, Harvard Medical School, 1977