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Committed to understanding the role of the brain in the pathogenesis of obesity and diabetes


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, our exciting new findings suggest that insulin-independent mechanisms, also referred to as “glucose effectiveness”, account for a major part of overall glucose disposal, and reduced glucose effectiveness also contributes to diabetes pathogenesis (Schwartz et al., Nature 2013).  While the mechanisms underlying insulin-independent glucose disposal are poorly understood, our recent work suggests that the brain plays an important role as leptin action in the brain can normalize blood sugar levels in rodent models of type 1 diabetes.  This antidiabetic effect of leptin involves a novel insulin-independent mechanism characterized by reduced rates of hepatic glucose production and increased rates of glucose uptake and establishes that the brain has the capacity to normalize blood glucose levels in uDM (German et al., Endocrinology 2011). 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.

Morton lab page - combined photo 1

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.  Our 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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UW Diabetes Institute Researcher Gregory Morton Receives NIH R01 Award

DOCE Researcher, Gregory Morton PhD, presents at American Diabetes Association’s 74th Scientific Sessions Symposium: The Brain in the Control of Glucose Homeostasis

DOCE Researchers published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience

DOCE Researchers published in Nature

Recent Publications

  1. German JP, Thaler JP, Wisse BE, Shinsuke Oh-I, Sarruf DA, Fischer JD, Matsen ME, Taborsky Jr, GJ, Schwartz MW, Morton GJ.  Leptin activates a novel CNS mechanism for insulin-independent normalization of severe diabetic hyperglycemia. Endocrinology 2011 Feb; 152(2):394-404.
  2. Meek TH, Wisse BE, Thaler JP, Guyenet SJ, Matsen ME, Fischer JD, Taborsky Jr, GJ, Schwartz MW, Morton GJ.  BDNF action in the brain attenuates diabetic hyperglycemia via insulin-independent inhibition of hepatic glucose production. Diabetes. 2013 May;62(5):1512-8. PMCID: PMC3636618.
  3. Meek TH, Matsen ME, Dorfman MD, Guyenet SJ, Damian V, Nguyen HT, Taborsky Jr, GJ, and Morton GJ.  Leptin action in the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus is sufficient, but not necessary, to normalize diabetic hyperglycemia. Endocrinology. 2013 Sep;154(9):3067-76.
  4. Schwartz MW, Seeley RJ, Tschop MH, Woods SC, Morton GJ, Myers MG, D’Alessio D.  Cooperation between brain and islet in glucose homeostasis and diabetes. Nature. 2013 503:59-66.
  5. Morton GJ, Matsen ME, Bracy DP, Meek TH, Nguyen HT, Stefanovski D, Bergman RN, Wasserman DH, Schwartz MW.  FGF19 action in the brain induces insulin-independent glucose lowering.  J Clin Invest 2013 Nov 1;123(11):4799-4808.
  6. Morton GJ, Meek TH, Schwartz MW.  Neurobiology of food intake in health and disease. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2014 15:367-378.


Lab Life



  • Members of the Laboratory

     Gregory J. Morton, PhD Gregory Morton, PhD, Principal Investigator
    Dr. Morton is a Research Associate Professor of Medicine at the Diabetes and Obesity Center of Excellence 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.  Dr. Morton is also Director of the Energy Balance and Glucose Metabolism Core of the NIH/NIDDK-funded Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Washington and serves on several local and national committees.
     Hong Nguyen Hong Nguyen
    Hong Nguyen is the Laboratory Manager and a Research Scientist 3.  She has a Bachelor of Science and been a key member of the laboratory for over 20 years.  Her work specializes in performing immunohistochemical techniques in both cells and tissues.  The use of immunofluorescence is a powerful technique that utilizes fluorescent-labeled antibodies to detect specific target antigens.   This work allows us to identify neuronal populations that are activated or inhibited by humoral signals, such as leptin and assists our research aims investigating the role of brain in the pathogenesis of obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
     Miles Matsen Miles E. Matsen
    Miles Matsen is our Metabolic Studies Director.  He first joined the lab in 2006 after graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience at Washington State University and is interested in the role of the brain in metabolic diseases.
     Vincent Damian Vincent Damian
    Vincent 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
     Loan Nguyen Loan Nguyen
    Loan Nguyen completed Dental Assisting and Computer Based Accounting programs at the Seattle Vocational Institute. She joined the laboratory in 1999 and currently is a Histologic Technician 1. Her job responsibilities include  cryostat sectioning of rodent tissues.
     Kayoko Ogimoto Kayoko Ogimoto, Ph.D.
    Kayoko 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 NORC Energy Balance and Glucose Metabolism 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.
     Jarrell - Morton page Jarrell Nelson
    Jarrell 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.
  • Contact Us

    Diabetes and Obesity Center of Excellence
    University of Washington School of Medicine
    South Lake Union Campus
    850 Republican Street Rm N334
    Seattle, WA 98109-8055

    Phone: (206) 897-5292
    Lab: (206) 897-5280



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