David B. Morton, BA, Ph.D.

  • Professor of Integrative Biosciences, School of Dentistry
  • Associate Dean for Research, Dean's Office, School of Dentistry
  • Cell and Developmental Biology Graduate Program, School of Medicine
  • Neuroscience Graduate Program, School of Medicine
  • Program in Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, School of Medicine


Research Interests

The majority of the research projects in my laboratory focus on understanding molecular and cellular signaling pathways in the nervous system using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model system. The unparalleled array of genetic tools that are available in Drosophila make it an invaluable system for unraveling the molecular and cellular basis of normal functioning of the human brain and the underlying mechanisms of disease. Three primary projects are currently ongoing in the lab:

Cyclic GMP signaling and neuronal hypoxia sensing

All animals require oxygen to survive and it is critical for an organism to be able to respond rapidly and appropriately to hypoxic conditions. My lab has been studying the function and regulation of the intracellular messenger, cyclic GMP (cGMP) for over 30yrs and we identified a novel class of guanylyl cyclases, the enzymes that synthesize cGMP, which are regulated by changes in oxygen levels. In Drosophila these enzymes are located throughout the nervous system, and in particular in sensory neurons, where they function as neuronal hypoxia detectors. When these neurons are activated in hypoxic conditions they signal to the CNS to initiate behavioral escape responses.

Molecular and cellular basis for Lou Gehrig's disease

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease is a relentlessly progressive neurodegenerative disease that in most cases leads to death 3-5 years after diagnosis. ALS is caused by the selective degeneration of motor neurons, which in ALS patients contain cytoplasmic protein aggregates containing an RNA-binding protein named TDP-43. We are utilizing the genetic tool kit available in Drosophila to understand the molecular and cellular outcomes of TDP-43 dysfunction that lead to neurodegeneration.

Methamphetamine action on the nervous systemMethamphetamine use is one of the top drug problems in America and is a significant contributor to crime in the United States. We have recently started to use Drosophila to help identify new targets that modulate the action of methamphetamine in the nervous system. We have now shown that the small GTPase, Rab10 modulates the effects of methamphetamine in flies. Future experiments will focus on determining which neurons require Rab10 expression and the function of Rab10 in methamphetamine action.

Education and training

    • B.A., 1980, The University of Cambridge
    • Ph.D., 1983, The University of Cambridge

Areas of interest

  • Neuroscience
  • Drosophila neurobiology
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Genetics
  • Signal transduction

Honors and awards

  • Fulbright-Hayes Travel Grant
  • 1991 - 1993 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship
  • 1991 NINDS First Award
  • 2000 Dean’s Research Award, School of Dentistry, OHSU
  • 2002, 2007 Finalist, OHSU Faculty Senate Awards in Research
  • 2008 Outstanding Researcher in Biological Science – Sigma Xi, Columbia-Willamette chapter
  • 2012 Finalist, OHSU Faculty Senate Awards in Collaboration
  • 2013 Finalist, OHSU Faculty Senate Awards in Research
  • 2014 Elected honorary member; Omicron Kappa Upsilon Delta


Selected publications

  • Morton, D.B. (2004).  Atypical soluble guanylyl cyclases in Drosophila can function as molecular oxygen sensors. J. Biol. Chem. 279:50651-50653. PMID: 15485853
  • Morton, D.B. and Vermehren, A. (2007). Soluble Guanylyl Cyclases in Invertebrates: targets for NO and O2. In Advances in Experimental Biology on Nitric Oxide pp 65-82, Eds. B.A. Trimmer and B. Tota, Elsevier Press. PMID: 19122779, PMCID: PMC2613308
  • Morton, D.B., Stewart, J.A., Langlais, K.K., Clemens-Grisham, R. and Vermehren, A. (2008). Synaptic transmission in neurons that express the Drosophila atypical soluble guanylyl cyclases, Gyc-89Da and Gyc-89Db, is necessary for the successful completion of larval and adult ecdysis. J. exp. Biol. 211, 1645-1656. PMID: 18456892, PMCID: PMC2424211
  • Zimmer, M., Gray, J.M., Pokala, N., Chang, A.J., Karow, D.S., Marletta, M.A., Hudson, M.L., Morton, D.B., Chronis, N. and Bargmann, C.I. (2009). Neurons detect increases and decreases in oxygen levels using distinct guanylate cyclases. Neuron 61, 865-879. PMID: 19323996, PMCID: PMC2760494
  • Morton, D. B., Clemens-Grisham, R., Hazelett, D.J. and Vermehren-Schmaedick, A. (2010). Infertility and male mating behavior deficits associated with Pde1c in Drosophila melanogaster. Genetics 186: 159–165. PMID: 20551439, PMCID: PMC2940284
  • Vermehren-Schmaedick, A. Ainsley, J.A., Johnson, W.A., Davies, S-A. and Morton, D.B. (2010). Behavioral responses to hypoxia in Drosophila larvae are mediated by atypical soluble guanylyl cyclases. Genetics 186: 183–196. PMID: 20592263 PMCID: PMC2940286
  • Hazelett, D.J., Chang, J-C., Lakeland, D.L. and Morton, D.B. (2012). Comparison of parallel hi-throughput RNA-sequencing between knockout of TDP-43 and its overexpression reveals primarily non-reciprocal and non-overlapping gene expression changes in the central nervous system of Drosophila. G3:Genes, Genomes, Genetics 2, 789-802. PMID: 22870402, PMCID: PMC3385985.
  • Brown, K.M., Day, J.P., Huston, E., Zimmermann, B., Hampel, K., Christian, F., Romano, D., Terhzaz, S., Lee, L.C.Y., Willis, M.J., Morton, D.B., Beavo, J.A., Shimizu-Albergine, M., Davies, S.A., Kolch, W., Houslay, M.D. and Baillie, G.S. (2013). Phosphodiesterase-8A binds to and regulates Raf-1 kinase. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 110, E1533-42. PMID: 23509299; PMCID: PMC3631629.
  • Vanderwerf, S.M., Buck, D.C., Wilmarth, P.A., David, L.L., Sears, L.M., Morton, D.B. and Neve, K.A. (2015). Role for Rab10 in methamphetamine-induced behavior. PloS One 10(8): e0136167. doi:10.1371. PMID: 26291453; PMCID: PMC4546301.


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