John Forte, researcher on acid-secreting stomach cells, has died at 77

John Gaetano Forte, a University of California, Berkeley, physiologist whose work on acid-secreting cells in the stomach pointed the way to treatments for ulcers, died peacefully at his home in Berkeley on Nov. 19, 2012, following a prolonged battle with leukemia.

Forte, a professor of the Graduate School in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and former chair of UC Berkeley’s Department of Physiology and Anatomy, was 77.

John Forte, former chair of the department of physiology and anatomy

John G. Forte, UC Berkeley Professor of the Graduate School in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and former chair of the Department of Physiology and Anatomy

Through his studies of the acid-producing parietal cells in the stomach, Forte identified a unique pump in the body, a potassium-activated ATPase, responsible for generating the stomach’s highly acidic secretions. This research helped point the direction toward pharmacological treatments for ulcers.

Sometimes in collaboration with his wife, Trudy, Forte showed how the pump works in concert with other ion channels and pumps to secrete hydrochloric acid into the stomach, and how the pump is activated during meals and inactivated afterward. This research provided the first description of a process of membrane recycling that has since been found in other epithelial tissues, such as the kidneys and intestines. His recent work focused on understanding how membrane recycling is controlled by the cytoskeleton, which is composed of small protein fibers inside the cells.

Forte was a dedicated teacher and mentor, earning numerous awards for his work with students from the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, which was formed in the 1980s from several other departments, including physiology and anatomy. In his later years he was a popular lecturer in the 600-student Biology 1A course.

Forte was born Dec. 23, 1934, and raised in South Philadelphia, where he attended Valley Forge Military Academy for high school. He earned an A.B degree in 1956 from Johns Hopkins University, where he was an outstanding athlete, playing football and serving as captain of the fencing team. He won NCAA honors while fencing saber.

After obtaining his Ph.D. in 1961 from the University of Pennsylvania, he began his studies of parietal cells in the stomach at Penn and the University of Southern California. He then moved with his family to Berkeley in 1965, where he joined the faculty in the Department of Physiology and Anatomy. Forte served as chair of the department from 1972 to 1978.

In recognition of his pioneering work, Forte received many awards, including the William Beaumont Prize in Gastroenterology, the highest award given by the American Gastroenterology Association, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and prizes from the British Society of Gastroenterology and the American Physiological Society. Forte also received a National Merit Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Sheikh Hamdan Award for Excellence in Medical Sciences.

Forte served as editor of or was on the editorial board for many books and journals.  He also served on study sections and in review capacities for the NIH.

A kind and generous man, Forte was a devoted and active member of St. Mary Magdalen, a Catholic parish in Berkeley. He also supported the local performing arts, and enjoyed lending his baritone voice to The University of California Faculty Club Monks and his church choir.

Forte is survived by his wife of 51 years, Gertrude “Trudy” (Michel) Forte; daughters, Michele Ramos and Susan McElhany; son, John; and seven grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in Forte’s memory to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 221 Main St., San Francisco, CA 94105.


  • Obituary by Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
  • John Forte’s website