John Gaetano Forte

John Gaetano Forte, PhD
Dec 23, 1934 - Nov 19, 2012

John Forte, a physiologist, mentor, teacher, administrator, husband, father, grandfather and friend, died November 19, 2012 after a long battle with leukemia. John was a Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He was a world-renowned investigator in the field of gastric physiology and teacher of physiology for undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students. John had important and wide-ranging impacts in both his research and teaching.

John was born and spent his childhood in Philadelphia, PA. He attended Valley Forge Military Academy for high school and completed the A.B degree from Johns Hopkins University. He was an outstanding athlete, playing football and serving as captain of the fencing team at Hopkins, where he earned NCAA honors while fencing saber.

John earned the PhD degree in 1961 from the University of Pennsylvania, where he began his studies of the parietal (acid-secreting) cell of the stomach. He also met Trudy, the love of his life, there. In 1965, John and Trudy and the children moved to Berkeley, where he joined the faculty in the Department of Physiology and Anatomy. He moved up the ranks and attained full Professor in 1974. John served as Chairman of the Department of Physiology and Anatomy (1972-78) and on many University and Department committees.

John was a renowned researcher and teacher. One of his most important scientific contributions was the identification of a unique potassium-activated ATPase (H,K-ATPase) in the membranes of parietal cells - this pump is responsible for generating the highly acidic stomach secretions. John’s research formed the basis for the most effective known pharmacological treatments for ulcers and conditions with hyper-acid secretion. John and his collaborators developed and applied inspired biochemical assays to define how this unique ATPase operated, ultimately defining it as a K+-activated ATPase quite similar to the Na,K-ATPase and Ca-ATPase. Other pioneering studies using H+-sensitive fluorescent dyes and purified apical membrane vesicles showed how the H,K-ATPase operated in concert with other ion channels in the apical membrane to secrete HCl into the stomach. Another ground-breaking area was his (and his wife Trudy’s) use of electron microscopy to study acid secretion. Their studies showed that activation of parietal cell acid secretion involved massive fusion of vesicles containing H,K-ATPase with the apical membrane, and return to non-secretory conditions involved retraction of the apical membrane combined with endocytic reformation of these tubulovesicles inside the cells. John’s research on the parietal cell provided the first description of this process, and membrane fusion with endocytic recycling is now recognized as a conserved pathway that all epithelia use to regulate ion transporter functions. His most recent research focused on determining how the cytoskeleton and associated proteins control these recycling events in different membranous compartments in the parietal cell.

In recognition of his pioneering work, John received numerous major awards. Amongst these honors were a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Horace Davenport Distinguished Lecturer of the American Physiological Society, William Beaumont Prize from the American Gastroenterology Association, the Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Gastroenterology Association, Honorary Member of British Society of Gastroenterology, the Sheikh Hamdan Award for Excellence in Medical Sciences and a National Merit Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). John’s research was funded by the NIH for 45 years. John also provided important service to the field as: (i) editor for several books and for the American Journal of Physiology, the Handbook of Physiology, Annual Reviews of Physiology; (ii) editorial board member of Journal of Applied Physiology, Journal of Membrane Biology, Journal of Biomembranes and Bioenergetics and Gastroenterology; (iii) member and Chairman of the Physiology Study Section and in other review capacities for the NIH; and (iv) as an organizer for many international meetings.

John always delighted in learning and academic sparring. He was the central figure of the Parietal Cell Club, which met yearly at the Experimental Biology meeting to provide the type of informal and enjoyable scientific jousting that moves science forward. John was always an active, vocal and engaging presence at scientific meetings, in a way that excited and inspired his colleagues. John was also a dedicated teacher. He generated innovative and effective syllabi, slides and videos to accompany his lectures in both Introductory and Advanced Human Physiology. In his later years he was a popular lecturer in the 600-student Biology 1A course. Professor Forte received numerous awards from the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology for his teaching and mentoring.

John was also a kind and generous man who had many friends and a wonderful family. John was also a devoted and active member of the St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Berkeley. A supporter of local performing arts, he enjoyed lending his baritone voice to the UCB Monks Faculty Choir and church choir. He expressed creative talents through carvings and furniture woodworking.