Dr John Chilton

Dr John Chilton

Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences (Education)

Peninsula Medical School (Faculty of Health)



Associate Head of School (Admissions, Marketing & Recruitment)


  • M.A.(Hons.) Natural Sciences
  • M.Sc. Neuroscience (Distinction)
  • D.Phil. Developmental neurobiology
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Clinical Education
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
John was in the first cohort of students on the Wellcome Trust four year program in neuroscience at Oxford University, where he began his DPhil with Dr Andrew Stoker on the role of receptor tyrosine phosphatases in axon guidance. During this time the group moved to the Institute of Child Health at University College London, to become part of the Neural Development Unit.

He moved to the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at King’s College London to join the group of Professor Sarah Guthrie, where he studied the development of the oculomotor system. During this time he was awarded an EMBO short-term fellowship to work in the lab of Dr Alain Chédotal in Paris. He stayed at KCL for a second post-doc, this time with Professor Phillip Gordon-Weeks, working on the growth cone cytoskeleton.

In 2005 he was awarded a RCUK Fellowship in Clinical Neuroscience and Molecular Biology at the newly-founded Peninsula Medical School. From 2011 to 2019 he was part of University of Exeter Medical School before returning to Plymouth in the summer of 2019.

He is passionate about widening participation in science and medicine. In 2006 he created the 'Men in White' science outreach programme which, until 2019, hosted over 2000 pupils from schools across the south west. With a deliberately ironic title, it aimed to dispel stereotypes about researchers such as the myth that all scientists are dull, middle-aged white men (even if that is an apt description of him). Men in White was used as a case study in an RCUK guide to public engagement and appeared on the BBC, ITV and local radio. In 2013, John was selected as an inaugural Public Engagement Champion in the RCUK-funded Catalyst scheme and he continues to speak at a range of science festivals and school events. Now that Men in White have moved to the Great Lab in the Sky, he is developing the interactive 'Braingineering' sessions to explore the mysteries of the brain with school groups.

Professional membership

  • Biochemical Society
  • International Association of Medical Science Educators (IAMSE)



Teaching interests

Feedback Lead

Biochemistry Lead

Main teaching themes:

Biochemistry, cell biology, neuroscience, teamwork.



Research interests

I have a passion for art and the visual representation of scientific ideas and am currently exploring the use of custom-printed 3-D molecular models in medical education.

I am interested in how principles of graphic design and comic book illustration can be used to explain biomedical concepts, especially molecular and cellular scale phenomena that may be seen as intangible and abstract. Examples of this can be seen on my Twitter feed @axonology and personal website www.axonology.com

Other research

My lab-based research had a longstanding interest in nervous system development with a particular focus on defining the role of the growth cone cytoskeleton in circuit formation. I worked closely with human geneticists to define pathways from genetic changes to the functional effects in development and disease. My work linking the genetic basis of congenital eye movement disorders to underlying embryonic mechanisms was published in Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I have particular expertise in cytoskeletal function and this work has appeared in Nature Cell Biology and the Journal of Cell Biology. Linking genetic disorders to cell biology underpinned subsequent work on spastic paraplegia and retinitis pigmentosa published in Brain and PLoS Genetics. Latterly I applied the insights and tools from my work on cell and developmental biology to investigate early stages in the pathology of neurodegenerative disease, primarily Alzheimer’s Disease. A growing recognition of the possible similarity in disease mechanisms between dementia and diabetes enabled me to collaborate in new areas and apply tools developed for neurobiology to interrogate beta cell function.

Grants & contracts

EFSD/Novo Nordisk Programme for Diabetes Research in Europe, proposal led by Dr. C. Beall. ‘The role of astroglial mitochondrial dysfunction in altered neuron-astrocyte signalling during hypoglycaemia in diabetes.’ 01/10/2018 – 31/03/2020 €100,000.

BBSRC ALERT17 named investigator on proposal led by Prof. S. Scholpp BB/R013764/1 ‘A Single Molecule Detection Platform (SMD) for a Leica SP8 TCS to analyse protein-protein interactions in living specimen.’

Fight for Sight PhD studentship, co-supervisors Prof. A. Crosby & Dr. E. Baple. ‘Defining genes and molecular processes underlying two newly identified forms of inherited eye disease’. 01/09/2016-31/08/2019 ~£55,000.

Northcott Devon Medical Foundation. 'Reversing the pathological accumulation of cofilin rods in dementia' 01/08/2017 – 31/07/2018 £5950.

ARUK Network Grant co-applicants: Dr. H. Hardy & Dr. J. Brown ‘Correlating cofilin rod deposition with markers of protein pathology in Alzheimer's Disease'. 02/2017 - 08/2017 £4400.

University of Exeter Medical School internal PhD studentship 'Cytoskeletal regulation of semaphorin signalling to promote spinal neuron regeneration'. 01/10/13 - 31/09/16 ~£60,000.

Northcott Devon Medical Foundation, co-applicants Prof. A. Randall & Dr. F. Tamagnone. 'A novel 3-D culture method for determining the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on human neuronal stem cells.' 01/07/2015 - 30/06/2016 £2800.

BBSRC SW Doctoral Training Program Co-supervisor Dr. I. Jourdain (University of Exeter Biosciences) 'Fundamental role of the exocyst complex in cell shape definition, from simple to complex systems'. 01/09/2015 – 31/08/2019 ~£70,000.

Wellcome Trust/University of Exeter Institutional Strategic Support Fund ‘Calcium sensor proteins in neurodegeneration – are they the solution...or the problem?’ 01/07/12 - 30/11/13 £17,200.      

Northcott Devon Medical Foundation ‘Identification of changes in gene expression mediated by the SIM2 transcription factor and their effect on neuronal development in Down Syndrome.’ 01/06/12 - 31/10/13 £9,100.

BBSRC Project Grant ‘Interpretation of guidance cues by the actin-binding protein Drebrin to direct collective neuronal migration’ 01/07/11 - 30/06/14 £294,549.      

Wellcome Trust Project Grant ‘Alpha2-chimaerin as a molecular switch which regulates motor axon growth and guidance’ Joint award with Prof. S. Guthrie (KCL; lead applicant) 01/07/10 - 31/06/13 £208,123.

Peninsula Medical School PhD studentship ‘Identifying the basis of the resistance of ocular motor neurons to degeneration in Motor Neuron Disease’ 01/10/10 - 31/09/13 £55,320. 

Northcott Devon Medical Foundation ‘Using one's brain to understand the kidney: an investigation into the role of the actin-binding protein Drebrin in renal podocytes and its involvement in diabetic nephropathy’ 01/04/10 - 31/03/11 £9,700.       

Northcott Devon Medical Foundation ‘Identification of genes causing human eye movement disorders’ 01/11/09 - 31/10/10 £9,600.      

Wellcome Trust Project Grant ‘The Role of Actin-Binding Proteins in Neurons Undergoing Tangential Migration During Embryonic Development’ 01/06/07 - 31/05/10 £162,248.

BBSRC Public Engagement Award ‘Men in White meet The Fly’ Co-applicant: Dr. K. Gresty (Univ. Plymouth) 01/03/09 - 28/02/10 £3,200.      

Peninsula Medical School PhD studentship ‘The control of motor neuron migration in the oculomotor system’ 01/10/06 - 31/09/09 £53,196.             

Northcott Devon Medical Foundation ‘Neuronal Development and Repair; Role of the Recently Identified Protein Jamip1’ 01/08/06 - 31/07/07 £8,809.   



Key publications

Key publications are highlighted

Robb JL, Hammad NA, Weightman Potter PG, Chilton JK, Beall C & Ellacott KLJ (2020) 'The metabolic response to inflammation in astrocytes is regulated by nuclear factor‐kappa B signaling' Glia 68, (11) 2246-2263 , DOI
Pavez M, Thompson AC, Arnott HJ, Mitchell CB, D'Atri I, Don EK, Chilton JK, Scott EK, Lin JY & Young KM (2019) 'STIM1 Is Required for Remodeling of the Endoplasmic Reticulum and Microtubule Cytoskeleton in Steering Growth Cones' The Journal of Neuroscience 39, (26) 5095-5114 , DOI
Alakbarzade V, Iype T, Chioza BA, Singh R, Harlalka GV, Hardy H, Sreekantan-Nair A, Proukakis C, Peall K & Clark LN (2019) 'Copy number variation of <i>LINGO1</i> in familial dystonic tremor' Neurology Genetics 5, (1) e307-e307 , DOI
Weightman Potter PG, Vlachaki Walker JM, Robb JL, Chilton JK, Williamson R, Randall AD, Ellacott KLJ & Beall C (2018) 'Basal fatty acid oxidation increases after recurrent low glucose in human primary astrocytes' Diabetologia 62, (1) 187-198 , DOI
Li L, Jiao X, D’Atri I, Ono F, Nelson R, Chan C-C, Nakaya N, Ma Z, Ma Y & Cai X (2018) 'Mutation in the intracellular chloride channel CLCC1 associated with autosomal recessive retinitis pigmentosa' PLOS Genetics 14, (8) e1007504-e1007504 , DOI
Salter CG, Beijer D, Hardy H, Barwick KES, Bower M, Mademan I, De Jonghe P, Deconinck T, Russell MA & McEntagart MM (2018) 'Truncating <i>SLC5A7</i> mutations underlie a spectrum of dominant hereditary motor neuropathies' Neurology Genetics 4, (2) e222-e222 , DOI
Wang H, Salter CG, Refai O, Hardy H, Barwick KES, Akpulat U, Kvarnung M, Chioza BA, Harlalka G & Taylan F (2017) 'Choline transporter mutations in severe congenital myasthenic syndrome disrupt transporter localization' Brain 140, (11) 2838-2850 , DOI
Gasperini RJ, Pavez M, Thompson AC, Mitchell CB, Hardy H, Young KM, Chilton JK & Foa L (2017) 'How does calcium interact with the cytoskeleton to regulate growth cone motility during axon pathfinding?' Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience 84, 29-35 , DOI
Chilton JK & Guthrie S (2017) 'Axons get ahead: Insights into axon guidance and congenital cranial dysinnervation disorders' Developmental Neurobiology 77, (7) 861-875 , DOI
Vahidi Mehrjardi MY, Maroofian R, Kalantar SM, Jaafarinia M, Chilton J & Dehghani M (2017) 'A Novel Loss-of-Function Mutation in HOXB1 Associated with Autosomal Recessive Hereditary Congenital Facial Palsy in a Large Iranian Family' Molecular Syndromology 8, (5) 261-265 , DOI
Ketschek A, Spillane M, Dun X, Hardy H, Chilton J & Gallo G (2016) 'Drebrin coordinates the actin and microtubule cytoskeleton during the initiation of axon collateral branches' Developmental Neurobiology 76, (10) 1092-1110 , DOI
Gutowski NJ & Chilton JK (2015) 'The congenital cranial dysinnervation disorders' Archives of Disease in Childhood 100, (7) 678-681 , DOI
Ferrario JE, Baskaran P, Clark C, Hendry A, Lerner O, Hintze M, Allen J, Chilton JK & Guthrie S (2012) 'Axon guidance in the developing ocular motor system and Duane retraction syndrome depends on Semaphorin signaling via alpha2-chimaerin' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, (36) 14669-14674 , DOI
Dun X-P, Bandeira de Lima T, Allen J, Geraldo S, Gordon-Weeks P & Chilton JK (2012) 'Drebrin controls neuronal migration through the formation and alignment of the leading process' Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience 49, (3) 341-350 , DOI
Dun X-P & Chilton JK (2010) 'Control of cell shape and plasticity during development and disease by the actin-binding protein Drebrin' HISTOLOGY AND HISTOPATHOLOGY 25, (4) 533-540 Author Site
Allen J & Chilton JK (2009) 'The specific targeting of guidance receptors within neurons: Who directs the directors?' Developmental Biology 327, (1) 4-11 , DOI
Geraldo S, Khanzada UK, Parsons M, Chilton JK & Gordon-Weeks PR (2008) 'Targeting of the F-actin-binding protein drebrin by the microtubule plus-tip protein EB3 is required for neuritogenesis' Nature Cell Biology 10, (10) 1181-1189 , DOI
Miyake N, Chilton J, Psatha M, Cheng L, Andrews C, Chan W-M, Law K, Crosier M, Lindsay S & Cheung M (2008) 'Human <i>CHN1</i> Mutations Hyperactivate α2-Chimaerin and Cause Duane's Retraction Syndrome' Science 321, (5890) 839-843 , DOI
Lee S, Faux C, Nixon J, Alete D, Chilton J, Hawadle M & Stoker AW (2007) 'Dimerization of Protein Tyrosine Phosphatase σ Governs both Ligand Binding and Isoform Specificity' Molecular and Cellular Biology 27, (5) 1795-1808 , DOI
Chilton J (2006) 'Molecular mechanisms of axon guidance' Developmental Biology 292, (1) 13-24 , DOI
Chilton J, Faure J, Peris L & Thery M (2006) 'Tubulin tyrosination is a major factor affecting the recruitment of CAP-Gly proteins at microtubule plus ends' The Journal of Cell Biology 174, (6) 839-849 , DOI
Hammond R, Vivancos V, Naeem A, Chilton J, Mambetisaeva E, Andrews W, Sundaresan V & Guthrie S (2005) 'Erratum: Slit-mediated repulsion is a key regulator of motor axon pathfinding in the hindbrain (Development vol. 132 (4483-4495))' Development 132, (22)
Chilton J, Hammond R, Naeem A & Vivancos V (2005) 'Slit-mediated repulsion is a key regulator of motor axon pathfinding in the hindbrain' Development 132, (20) 4483-4495 , DOI
Osborne NJ, Begbie J, Chilton JK, Schmidt H & Eickholt BJ (2005) 'Semaphorin/neuropilin signaling influences the positioning of migratory neural crest cells within the hindbrain region of the chick' Developmental Dynamics 232, (4) 939-949 , DOI
Chilton J & Guthrie S (2004) 'Development of the oculomotor axon projections in the chick embryo' The Journal of Comparative Neurology 472, (3) 308-317 , DOI
Chilton JK & Guthrie S (2003) 'Cranial expression of class 3 secreted semaphorins and their neuropilin receptors' Developmental Dynamics 228, (4) 726-733 , DOI
Sajnani-Perez G, Chilton JK, Aricescu AR, Haj F & Stoker AW (2003) 'Isoform-specific binding of the tyrosine phosphatase ptpσ to a ligand in developing muscle' Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience 22, (1) 37-48 , DOI
Chilton JK & Stoker AW (2000) 'Expression of Receptor Protein Tyrosine Phosphatases in Embryonic Chick Spinal Cord' Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience 16, (4) 470-480 , DOI
Chilton JK & Gordon-Weeks PR (2007) 'Role of Microtubules and MAPs During Neuritogenesis' Intracellular Mechanisms for Neuritogenesis Springer US 57-88 , DOI
Conference Papers
Dun X & Chilton JK (2010) '[P2.10]: The timing and direction of neuronal migration are regulated by the interaction of drebrin with Nck2' Wiley 688-689 , DOI
Other Publications
Ketschek A, Spillane M, Dun X, Hardy H, Chilton J & Gallo G Cover Image. Wiley i-i , DOI



Personal website http://www.axonology.com/