The Morton laboratory examines the role of the brain in the regulation of energy balance and glucose metabolism and how defects in this control system may contribute to the development of obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes.
Diabetes is a major health concern that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and is a leading cause of blindness, leg amputation, and kidney failure. This highlights the need for innovative research to develop and support new approaches to diabetes treatment. Ever since its discovery, research has primarily focused on the pancreatic hormone, insulin in the control of blood glucose levels. This research effort has provided clear evidence linking the development of diabetes to defects in insulin secretion and action. However, growing evidence suggests that the brain also plays an important role in maintaining glycemic control. Thus, when blood glucose deviates from its defended level, the brain, working in tandem with the islet, engages homeostatic responses that return it into the defended range. For example, during conditions of low blood glucose levels (i.e. hypoglycemia), the brain mounts integrated behavioral, autonomic and neuroendocrine responses that restore low blood glucose levels to normal. Conversely, the brain has the inherent capacity to normalize diabetic hyperglycemia in response to either leptin or fibroblast growth factor-1 (FGF1), raising the possibility that the brain is a potential target for the treatment of diabetes. Our overarching goal is to identify the neurocircuits in the brain that mediate this effect and understand how they communicate to peripheral tissues to control blood sugars.
Among ongoing projects in the Morton lab are studies that seek to identify neurocircuits that regulate blood glucose levels during environmental, physiological and homeostatic challenges such as hypoglycemia and cold exposure. To accomplish this, we utilize state-of-the-art neuroscience approaches, including both “optogenetics and DREADD” methodologies to selectively activate or inhibit specific neuronal populations in combination with genetic, molecular biological and immunohistochemical techniques. This research effort is supported by a talented, dedicated research team and we collaborate with colleagues both within the University of Washington, including the laboratory of Michael Schwartz, and around the USA. Overall, our research identifies the brain as a possible new avenue for diabetes drug development.
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Current Laboratory Members
Gregory Morton, PhD
Principal InvestigatorDr. Morton is a Research Professor of Medicine at the UW Medicine Diabetes Institute at the University of Washington. He received his PhD at Deakin University, Australia under the supervision of Dr. Greg Collier, and subsequently completed a post-doctoral research fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Schwartz within the Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Nutrition at the University of Washington, Seattle. His work has been funded by the NIH and other sources and focuses on the mechanisms whereby the brain regulates energy balance and glucose metabolism and how defects in this control system contribute to the development of obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes. In addition, Dr. Morton is Director of the UW Medicine Energy Balance Core, co-Director of the NIDDK-funded Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism Training Grant and serves on several local and national committees.
Jennifer Deem, PhD
Research FellowDr. Deem completed her BS in Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Washington while also working as a research scientist and lab manager in laboratories focused on stem cell, cardiovascular and pulmonary research. While working for Dr. Charles Murry, the Director of the Institute of Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Washington, Dr. Deem decided to return to school. She completed her PhD in the laboratory of G. Stanley McKnight at the University of Washington, switching her focus to neuroscience. In 2016, Dr. Deem accepted a post-doctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Greg Morton. In the Morton lab, Dr. Deem’s work is focused on the crosstalk between thermoregulatory and glucoregulatory neural circuits and how their dysregulation may underlie the pathology of type 2 diabetes and obesity. Dr. Deem is the recipient of the 2018 Endowed McAbee Fellowship and was awarded the John Brunzell Fellow travel award for 2018.
Chelsea Faber, BS, M3D PhD
Graduate StudentChelsea completed her BS in Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Michigan. Here, she worked in the lab of Dr. Martin Myers to investigate the mechanisms of central leptin action. For her graduate training, she joined the Molecular Medicine and Mechanisms of Disease program and began her thesis work in spring 2016 under the mentorship of Dr. Gregory Morton and Dr. Michael Schwartz. The goals of her work are to delineate neurocircuits that function to regulate blood glucose and energy balance. To achieve these goals, she utilizes complementary optogenetics, chemogenetics, and viral tracing strategies to interrogate the actions of select hypothalamic cell types and map their projections.
Research Scientist and Engineer 3 and Lab ManagerSarah has completed a BS in Neurobiology as well as both a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington. Sarah previously worked in the laboratory of Dr. Steiner, examining neuroendocrine mechanisms that govern reproduction before recently joining the lab in 2019. Sarah works with investigators to examine the neuroendocrine control of feeding and blood sugars by implementing new technologies into their neuroendocrine research, including the use of wireless optogenetics; a tool for stimulating and inhibiting neurons, fiber photometry; a method to monitor endogenous neural activity in real time and a thermal gradient; an assay for thermoregulatory studies.
Kayoko Ogimoto, PhD
Research ScientistKayoko completed a Doctor of Philosophy in Exercise Physiology with an integrated minor of Biochemistry, Nutrition and Veterinary Physiology at the Oregon State University She joined the lab in 2002 and is a Research Scientist 4. Kayoko works with investigators to streamline the study implementation for the UW Medicine Energy Balance Core. She oversees the data collection and is responsible for the organization, formatting, processing and biostatistical data analysis of indirect calorimetry and related service for rodents.
Research ScientistVincent Damian graduated with a B.A. Philosophy, B.S. Biochemistry, University of Washington and joined the lab in 2011 as a Research Scientist 1. He is a Colony Manager and his research responsibilities include: Murine Genetics, Gene Expression Technologies, Operation Management, Project Management
Bao Anh Phan
Research ScientistBao Anh Phan joined the laboratory in 2017. She completed a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry at the University of Washington. She is an expert in histology, with the performance of cryostat sectioning, immunohistochemical staining and western blot analysis.
Research ScientistJarrell Nelson joined the lab in 2010 and is a Research Scientist 1. He completed his Bachelor of Science in Zoology at Washington State University and is responsible for the performance of indirect calorimetry, ambulatory activity, body temperature, running wheel studies and insulin/glucose tolerance tests.
UW Undergraduate StudentTammy's research interests include studying the role of the brain in maintaining glucose homeostasis and the impact of FGF1 on diabetes remission.
UW Undergraduate StudentSarwesh is a current undergraduate at the University of Washington double majoring in molecular biology and mathematics. His interests include cell signaling proteins and mitogens in cellular processes, specifically focusing on fibroblast growth factors. He is passionate about leading his own independent research project and plans to pursue an MD-PhD dual degree in the near future.
UW Undergraduate StudentI am currently going into my sophomore year at UW and studying molecular biology and computer science. In general. I am very interested in the cross of research and the biological sciences. Specifically, I am interested in how energy homeostasis and glucoregulatory neurocircuits are linked and how they can be disrupted by the development of obesity. I love science and I look forward to being part of the team!".
UW Medicine Diabetes Institute
750 Republican Street, Box 358062
Seattle, WA 98109
Gregory Morton: (206) 897-5292
Laboratory: (206) 897-5280
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