R. Douglas Watson headshot.

R. Douglas Watson

Professor; Associate Chair
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Campbell Hall 271
(205) 934-2031

Research and Teaching Interests: Physiology of Endocrine and Neuroendocrine Systems; Regulation of Hormone Synthesis and Secretion; Cellular and Molecular Actions of Hormones on Target Tissues

Office Hours: By appointment


  • B.S., Southern Utah State College, Zoology
  • PhD, University of Iowa, Zoology

Professor Watson is Associate Chair of the Department of Biology. His research interests are in the field of endocrinology ⎯ the study of hormone chemical messengers that influence life from embryonic development through old age. He has published numerous research articles on the endocrine regulation of growth and development in invertebrates.

Watson is a recipient of the UAB President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. He teaches General Endocrinology and Comparative Animal Physiology, and occasionally Introductory Biology and Introductory Human Physiology.

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Research Interests

My laboratory is studying the mechanisms by which hormones control development. Our research is multidisciplinary, drawing on the fields of molecular biology, biochemistry, and physiology. We are currently using two invertebrate models, the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) and the crayfish (Procambarus clarkii). In crustaceans, cycles of growth and molting and associated developmental processes, including regeneration, are controlled by the endocrine system. The cellular events that lead to molting are stimulated by steroid hormones termed ecdysteroids. Ecdysteroids are secreted by paired Y-organs. The synthesis of ecdysteroids by Y-organs is negatively regulated (inhibited) by a polypeptide neurohormone, molt-inhibiting hormone (MIH). MIH is produced in a cluster of neurosecretory cells located in eyestalk neural ganglia. Our current projects include the following:

  • Cellular signaling pathways linked to regulation of ecdysteroid synthesis. We are studying the link of MIH receptor activation to cyclic nucleotide cellular signaling pathways in Y-organs. Our data indicate that cGMP is the second messenger directly linked to MIH action in Y-organs of both C. sapidus and P. clarkii. The catabolism of cGMP is catalyzed by cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterases (PDEs). Our recent studies have begun to clarify the critical roles of PDEs in defining the magnitude and duration of the cGMP signal in Y-organs. Cellular signaling molecules other than cGMP have also been implicated, directly or indirectly, in MIH action. Among these, calcium appears to play a critical role. We are also currently investigating the roles of calcium signaling in regulation of ecdysteroidogenesis.
  • MIH receptor structure and function. Based on studies of cellular signaling in Y-organs, we hypothesize that the MIH receptor is a receptor guanylyl cyclase (rGC), and have cloned from Y-organs of C. sapidus a candidate MIH receptor. We are conducting experiments designed to assess the ability of MIH to bind and activate the candidate receptor, and to determine whether changes in MIH receptor number are responsible of developmental changes in the responsiveness of Y-organs to MIH.

From the standpoint of basic science, our research is focused on answering crucial questions regarding the endocrine regulation of development. From the standpoint of applied science, the findings may lead to development of methods for manipulating growth and molting, a potential benefit to fisheries managers, the aquaculture industry, and consumers.

Recent Courses

  • BY 420/520: General Endocrinology
  • BY 410/610: Comparative Animal Physiology
  • BY 124: Introductory Biology I
  • BY 116: Introductory Human Physiology

Graduate Students

Current Students

  • Megan E. Roegner, Ph.D. student: Calcium signaling in Y-organ cells of the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus)
  • Amanda C. Weiner, Ph.D. student: Effects of COREXIT EC9500A on endocrine-regulated growth and development in blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus)
  • Aubree Gillis, M.S. student: Structure of the crustacean hyperglycemic hormone neuroendocrine axis in the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus)

Select Publications

  • Li FJ, Duggal RN, Oliva OM, Karki S, Surolia R, Wang Z, Watson RD, Thannickal VJ, Powell ML, Watts SA, Kulkarni T, Batra H, Agarwal A, Antony VB, "Heme Oxygenase 1 Protects Corexit 9500A-induced Respiratory Epithelium Injury Across Species," PLOS ONE (2015, in press).
  • Chen HY, Roer RD, Watson RD, "Molecular Cloning of a Plasma Membrane Ca2+ ATPase (PMCA) from Y-organs of the Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus), and Determination of Spatial and Temporal Patterns of PMCA Gene Expression," GENE 213 (2013): 8-17.
  • Chen HY, Dillaman RM, Roer RD, Watson RD, "Intracellular Calcium Concentration in Crustacean (Callinectes sapidus) Y-organs during a Molting Cycle: Relation to the Hemolymphatic Ecdysteroid Titer," Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A 163 (2012): 170-73.
  • Chen HY, Watson RD, "Changes in Intracellular Calcium Concentration in Crustacean (Callinectes sapidus) Y-organs: Relation to the Hemolymphatic Ecdysteroid Titer," Journal of Experimental Zoology 315 (2011): 56-60.
  • Zheng J, Chen HY, Choi CY, Roer RD, Watson RD, "Molecular Cloning of a Putative Crustacean Hyperglycemic Hormone (CHH) Isoform from Extra-eyestalk Tissue of the Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus), and Determination of Temporal and Spatial Patterns of CHH Gene Expression," General and Comparative Endocrinology 169 (2010): 174-81.
  • Chang CC, Tsai KW, Hsiao NW, Chang CY, Lin CL, Watson RD, Lee CY, "Structural and Functional Comparisons and Production of Recombinant Crustacean Hyperglycemic Hormone (CHH) and CHH-like Peptides from the Mud Crab Scylla olivacea," General and Comparative Endocrinology 167 (2010): 68-76.
  • Nakatsuji T, Lee CY, Watson RD, "Crustacean Molt-inhibiting Hormone: Structure, Function, and Cellular Mode of Action," Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology A 152 (2009): 139-48.
  • Zheng J, Nakatsuji T, Roer RD, Watson RD, "Studies of a Receptor Guanylyl cyclase Cloned from Y-organs of the Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus), and its Possible Functional Link to Ecdysteroidogenesis," General and Comparative Endocrinology 155 (2008): 780-788.
  • Chen HY, Watson RD, Chen JC, Liu HF, Lee CY, "Molecular Characterization and Gene Expression Patterns of Two Putative Molt-inhibiting Hormones from Litopenaeus vannamei," General and Comparative Endocrinology 151 (2007): 72-81.

Academic Distinctions and Professional Societies

  • UAB President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, 2010
  • NOAA Technical Review Panel, 1999-2004
  • Chairman of Editorial Board, Journal of the Alabama Academy of Science, 1991-2001
  • National Sigma Xi Grants-In-Aid of Research Committee, 1994-2000
  • Distinguished Mentor, Alabama Alliance for Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Science Education, 1996
  • USDA Entomology/Nematology Grant Review Panel, 1991-1992
  • NIH National Research Service Award, 1985-1988