Dr. Morton received his B.A. from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2003. Dr. Morton was accepted into the Graduate Partnership Program between the National Institutes of Health and George Washington University in Washing D.C. His PhD degree came from George Washington University while his graduate studies were carried out in the laboratory of Dr. David Lovinger at the National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. Dr. Morton completed a 4 year post-doc with Dr. Fernando Valenzuela at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. In 2017, Dr Morton was hired as a tenure tract Assistant Professor in the Neurosciences Department at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center

Personal Statement

The overall goal of my laboratory is to identify and understand the underlying cellular and physiological mechanisms of mild traumatic brain injuries. These proposed studies are aimed to identify spreading depolarizations as one of the key underpinning events of concussion-like injuries and how SDs contribute to the acute behavioral deficits, post-traumatic headaches, and repeated mTBIs. The findings of these studies will provide a basis for the development of treatments that directly target the consequences of SDs to promote brain recovery and repair in individuals suffering from concussion.I am currently a Tenure track Assistant Professor, I completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Fernando Valenzuela at the University of New Mexico studying the electrophysiological effects of developmental alcohol. In 2017, I was transitioned to a Research track Assistant Professor to be part of the center for Brain Recovery and Repair as the Preclinical Core manager. It was during my time as the core manager that my passion for understanding concussion-like injuries grew. That is when we developed the closed skull injury model used in these studies and identified the presence of spreading depolarizations in this mild model. In 2018, I was transitioned to Tenure track Assistant Professor within the Neurosciences department. In 2019, I received a pilot project funding from the Center for Brain Recovery and Repair to build my project investigating the role of Spreading Depolarizations in mild Traumatic Brain injury. In the renewal of the Center grant in 2020 I was one of the project leads. With the non-traditional career path and changing scientific fields from my post-doctoral research I have been slow to submit my first R01 application. However, with two senior author publications in brain injury, the support of the Center for Brain Recovery and Repair, the scientific environment, and collaborative team we have the expertise to aceive the goals of this proposal.
I am currently a project lead in the Center for Brain Recovery and Repair. As part of the Center for Brain Recovery and Repair, I have direct mentorship from Dr. Lee Anna Cunningham and Dr. Rick Campbell to help guide my research project and grantsmanship, access to the Preclinical Core Facility, and have been heavily involved in the brain injury community within the center. The Center brings together both clinical and preclinical investigators with interest in a broad spectrum of brain injuries with a focus on brain recovery and repair. In addition to the center, Dr. Morton and his lab members are heavily involved in the New Mexico Spreading Depolarization Consortium (NMSDC). The group consists of both clinical and preclinical investigators focused on spreading depolarizations in a broad spectrum if conditions including severe brain injuries and subarachnoid bleeds, electro-convulsive therapy, epilepsy, and understanding molecular and cellular mechanism of spreading depolarizations. Myself and my group have been involved in the international community of spreading depolarizations. I have given oral talks at the last three international conferences on spreading depolarizations and my students have presented posters. Our data has been well received among this group as the role of spreading depolarization in mild injuries has long been debated. Overall, the scientific environment is incredibly strong for these studies looking at mild traumatic brain injuries and spreading depolarizations.
I have also established a strong group of collaborators that have expertise in spreading depolarizations and headache/migraine research. Drs. Bill Shuttlworth and KC Brennan are leaders within the international field of spreading depolarizations. Dr. Shuttleworth is a leading expert on the cellular mechanisms of spreading depolarizations and excitotoxicity. He is a leading member of the NMSDC, PI of the Center for Brain Recovery and Repair, and the chair of the Neurosciences Department at the University of New Mexico. We had combined weekly lab meetings and weekly NMSDC meeting prior to the pandemic with plans to resume these meetings. Dr. Shuttleworth will provide critical guidance to these studies in relation the molecular and cellular mechanism of spreading depolarization. Dr. Brennan has expertise in spreading depolarizations in migraines and the molecular mechanisms involved in headaches. Dr. Brennan’s lab is at the University of Utah, but with the pandemic I have been attending Dr. Brennan’s weekly virtual lab meetings that discussion current projects in both our labs. However, we plan to continue these meeting going forward because they have been incredibly useful. We currently have a collaborative DoD grant investigating cortical excitability following both controlled cortical impact and our closed skull impact model. Dr. Brennan would provide critical guidance on post-traumatic headaches proposed in these studies. Collectively, this collaborative team has the expertise to execute these studies.

Areas of Specialty

Neurophysiology, and Mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBIs)


Post-Doc (2016):
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM
PhD (2011):
George Washington University
Washington D.C.
BA (2003):
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO

Achievements & Awards

UNM Graduate Student Retreat Keynote Speaker - 2017
Invited speaker for Rio Rancho Café Scientifique - 2016
UNM Graduate Student Retreat Keynote Speaker - 2014
UNM, Neuroscience Day, finalist for general public poster presentation - 2014
Invited speaker for New Mexico Café Scientifique - 2013
First place oral presentation GWU research day - 2008

Key Publications

Journal Article
Pacheco, J, M Hines-Lanham, A, Stratton, C, Mehos, C, J McCurdy, K, E Pinkowski, N, J Zhang, H, Shuttleworth, Claude, Morton, Russell, Spreading Depolarizations Occur in Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries and Are Associated with Postinjury Behavior. eNeuro, vol. 6, Issue 6
Journal Article
Pinkowski, N, J Guerin, J, Zhang, H, Carpentier, S, T McCurdy, K, E Pacheco, J, M Mehos, C, J Brigman, Jonathan, Morton, Russell, 2020 Repeated mild traumatic brain injuries impair visual discrimination learning in adolescent mice. Neurobiology of learning and memory, vol. 175




  • English

Courses Taught

Neurosciences Journal Club (BIOM 536), Instructor
Neurophysiology (BIOM 532), Co-Instructor
Methods in Cell Biology (BIOM 522), Lecturer
Undergraduate Pipeline Network (BIOM 410), Lecturer

Research and Scholarship

My lab is interested in the cellular and physiological mechanism that underlie concussions. We have identified that Spreading Depolarizations occur in these injuries and may play a critical role in cognitive disfunction and recovery. Spreading Depolarizations are massive events that propagate through the cortex causing a reduction in cerebral blood flow, a large shift in the extracellular potential, and suppress high frequency cortical activity (shown to the right). We are currently investigating the role of spreading depressions in the pathology and cognitive dysfunction that are associated with repeated concussions.