Jason Shepherd

How an ancient virus spread the ability to remember

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About Jason Shepherd

Taking on the major challenge of understanding how experience shapes neural networks and how circuits are modified by proteins/genes, Jason Shepherd has garnered worldwide recognition through the research in his lab, Shepherd Lab at the University of Utah School of Medicine. His work focuses on elucidating how the brain stores information from the molecular level through in vivo neuronal networks, and how these processes go awry in neurological disorders and in cognitive decline during aging. Looking specifically at Arc, the neuronal gene critical for long-term memory and synaptic plasticity, Jason's lab recently discovered that Arc has homology to retroviruses and is able to form viral-like capsids capable of transporting RNA. This finding provides a conceptual advance in our understanding of information encoding and storage in the brain. He has achieved many awards and honors, of which include him being a National Academy of Sciences Kavli Fellow and the recipient of the 2010 Gruber International Research Award in Neuroscience.

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About This Talk

Do you remember your oldest memory? Jason Shepherd clearly recalls a childhood filled with questioning the world around him, which naturally lead to a life of scientific discovery. As a Neurobiologist, Jason's curiosity spurred an unexpected finding as he studied the biology behind memory storage, encoding, and retrieval. Exploring the gene called ARC, which is essential to the synaptic plasticity that facilitates learning and cognition, Jason discovered that, at a biological level, the process of memory storage strongly resembles that of viral transmission.

Watch Jason's TEDMED 2018 Talk to learn how a viral-like evolutionary remnant underlies human memory storage. By diving further into this genetic homology, we may be able to prevent memory related ailments, such as Alzheimer's, before they strike.

Jason's Footnotes and References: 
(i) retrovirus lifecycle; (ii) Transposon/viral sequences used for evolution of genes; (iii) Central dogma of biology; (iv) The gene program that underlies memory; (v) Anatomy of a neuron; (vi) Donald Hebb - Organization of Behavior (1949); (vii) Review on Arc; (viii) Primary paper that describes our main discovery that Arc resembles a retrovirus; (ix) Fly Arc gene; (x) Arc in Alzheimer's disease; (xi) CRISPR

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