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
  • Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA)
I was in the first cohort of students on the Wellcome Trust four year program in neuroscience at Oxford University, where I began my 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.
I moved to the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology at King’s College London to join the group of Professor Sarah Guthrie, where I studied the development of the oculomotor system. During this time I was awarded an EMBO short-term fellowship to work in the lab of Dr Alain Chédotal in Paris. I stayed at KCL for a second post-doc, this time with Professor Phillip Gordon-Weeks, working on the growth cone cytoskeleton.
In 2005 I was awarded a RCUK Fellowship in Clinical Neuroscience and Molecular Biology at the newly-founded Peninsula Medical School. From 2011 to 2019 I was part of University of Exeter Medical School before returning to Plymouth in the summer of 2019.
I am passionate about widening participation in science and medicine. In 2006 I 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 (which ironically sums me up). 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, I was selected as an inaugural Public Engagement Champion in the RCUK-funded Catalyst scheme and continue 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, I am developing 'Braingineering' - interactive sessions exploring the mysteries of the brain with school groups and undergraduates.

Professional membership

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


Teaching interests

I am the medical school lead for biochemistry and this is a large part of the teaching I do across our programmes. One of the benefits of having an integrated curriculum is the opportunities to deliver content that overlaps with other areas, particularly where I can use my extensive background in cell biology and neuroscience. I also contribute to wider areas such as Enquiry-Based Learning (EBL) and the Student Selected Component. I'm excited to be part of the innovative approaches we are taking to EBL, an example of which is the implementation of the Braingineering activities into the medical curriculum.
My role as Associate Head of School for Admissions, Marketing and Recruitment enables me to pursue my passion for widening access to higher education. This spans running schools events such as Braingineering through to making sure our admissions criteria open up our courses to as many parts of society as possible.
I am co-creator of Wordotomy, a novel educational game for teaching complex terms to healthcare students. Wordotomy has become integral to the year 1 curriculum of Medical School programmes and is being adopted by other Schools in the Faculty of Health. The game is available from the Life Sciences Resource Centre for students to use in their self-directed learning. Wordotomy is sold worldwide and is produced, marketed and distributed by Focus Games, a leading international supplier of educational games.  


Research interests

I have a passion for art and the visual representation of scientific ideas. 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 @axonologyand personal website www.axonology.com
I have been recognised internationally for my contribution to graphical representation of scientific concepts. In 2021, I won the Federation of European Microbiology Societies prize in a global competition for best cartoon on International Microorganism Day. I contribute open-source vector art to scidraw.io a freely accessible international repository of biomedical illustrations. These are images I designed for use in teaching and have been downloaded tens of thousands of times. My artwork has been requested for use around the world as beer labels, tattoos and more scholarly applications such as publication figures.
I am leading the use of custom 3-D printed models in life science education. In collaboration with Dr. Darren Gowers from the University of Portsmouth, I have designed 3-D printed protein models in durable epoxy resin. The models are coloured to match the scheme used in the relevant structural publication, additional key residues important in clinical understanding of protein function are also coloured. The models contain detachable elements, due to embedded mini-magnets, which adds a kinaesthetic learning experience. This project won competitive internal funding from the Medical School (Chilton  et al. ‘Handling tiny components of big concepts: Using 3-D printed molecular models to enhance medical education’) and has been presented internationally. I am leading an ongoing study to investigate the effectiveness of these models in conjunction with interactive Digital Learning Environment resources I have developed, as self-directed learning tools for students. I am collaborating with other discipline leads to design models with wider impact beyond biochemistry in fields such as immunology and microbiology.
During the pandemic I spearheaded and led a Faculty-wide study examining the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on student experience, published in an international journal (Chilton et al. Eur. J. Dent. Edu. 2023). I have built on this work by now mentoring a student-led project examining students’ use of online teaching resources compared to face-to-face methods. This will inform the development of novel curricula which employ blended teaching approaches.

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 Scienceand Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I have particular expertise in cytoskeletal function and this work has appeared in Nature Cell Biologyand the Journal of Cell Biology. Linking genetic disorders to cell biology underpinned subsequent work on spastic paraplegia and retinitis pigmentosa published in Brainand 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

D'Atri I, Martin E-R, Yang L, Sears E, Baple E, Crosby AH, Chilton JK & Oguro-Ando A (2024) 'Unraveling the CLCC1 interactome: Impact of the Asp25Glu variant and its interaction with SigmaR1 at the Mitochondrial-Associated ER Membrane (MAM)' Neurosci Lett Author Site , DOI Open access
Zafar I, Chilton J, Edwards J, Watson H & Zahra D (2023) 'Exploring basic science knowledge retention within a cohort of undergraduate medical students in the United Kingdom: A longitudinal study' The Clinical Teacher , DOI Open access
Chilton JK, Hanks S & Watson HR (2023) 'A blended future? A cross‐sectional study demonstrating the impacts of the COVID‐19 pandemic on student experiences of well‐being, teaching and learning' European Journal of Dental Education , DOI Open access
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 Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , 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) Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , 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) Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , DOI
Chilton JK & Guthrie S (2017) 'Axons get ahead: Insights into axon guidance and congenital cranial dysinnervation disorders' Developmental Neurobiology 77, (7) 861-875 Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , DOI
Gutowski NJ & Chilton JK (2015) 'The congenital cranial dysinnervation disorders' Archives of Disease in Childhood 100, (7) 678-681 Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , 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
Allen J & Chilton JK (2008) 'The specific targeting of guidance receptors within neurons: Who directs the directors?' Developmental Biology 327, (1) 4-11 Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , DOI
Lee S, Faux C, Nixon J, Alete D, Chilton J, Hawadle M & Stoker AW (2006) 'Dimerization of Protein Tyrosine Phosphatase σ Governs both Ligand Binding and Isoform Specificity' Molecular and Cellular Biology 27, (5) 1795-1808 Publisher Site , 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
Chilton J (2006) 'Molecular mechanisms of axon guidance' Developmental Biology 292, (1) 13-24 , 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 Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , DOI
Chilton JK & Gordon-Weeks PR (2007) 'Role of Microtubules and MAPs During Neuritogenesis' Intracellular Mechanisms for Neuritogenesis Springer US 57-88 Publisher Site , 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 Publisher Site , DOI
Other Publications
Ketschek A, Spillane M, Dun X, Hardy H, Chilton J & Gallo G Cover Image. Wiley Publisher Site , DOI



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