The Donald Brown laboratory uses amphibian metamorphosis to study complex developmental programs such as the development of vertebrate organs. The thyroid gland secretes thyroxine (TH), a hormone essential for the growth and development of all vertebrates including humans. To understand TH, director emeritus Donald Brown studies one of the most dramatic roles of the hormone, the control of amphibian metamorphosis—the process by which a tadpole turns into a frog. He studies the frog Xenopus laevis from South Africa.
Events as different as the formation of limbs, the remodeling of organs, and the resorption of tadpole tissues such as the tail are all directed by TH. The hormone works by regulating the expression of groups of genes. It instructs some genes to absorb the tail and gills and others to start new tissues and organs. Over the years the lab has developed a strategy that is generally applicable to the analysis of complex programs, using TH induced metamorphosis in Xenopus laevis as a model. They have identified genes that are regulated by TH in a variety of tissues and organs by hybridizing probes with micro arrays.
Brown has been widely recognized for his contributions to cell biology. In 2012 he received the prestigious Lasker-Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science. In 1996 he received the E. B. Wilson Medal of the American Society for Cell Biology. Columbia University honored him with the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize in 1985. Also in 1985, he was the recipient of the Rosenstiel Award in Basic Biomedical Science from Brandeis University. The New York Academy of Sciences awarded him the Boris Pregel Award for Biology in 1977. Brown is also founder and president of the Life Sciences Research Foundation.
Brown received his M. S. and M. D. in biochemistry from the University of Chicago Medical School. He had fellowships at NIH before coming to Carnegie in 1961 as a fellow. He became a staff member in 1962 and director in 1976 until 1994, at which time he became a staff member again. For more see Brown lab