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TEDMED: A U neurobiologist explains how viruses shape memory

Jason Shepherd describes how his lab stumbled onto the unexpected discovery that the process of storing memories was inspired by something completely inhuman.

Neurobiology and anatomy associate professor Jason Shepherd strolled onto the stage at TEDMED in Palm Springs and relayed a memory. As a boy, he asked his mother why the sky was blue. After she spun a story about fairies and magic he looked at her squarely in the eye and said, “Mom, that’s crap!” Young Jason was clearly a skeptic and scientist in the making. But he never could have guessed that one day he would discover that the process of storing memories was inspired by something completely inhuman: viruses.

On Aug. 8, the video of Shepherd’s talk was released worldwide. In it, he explains how his lab stumbled onto the unexpected discovery and demonstrated how a virus-like protein mediates a novel form of cell-to-cell communication in the brain. Understanding this new pathway could also lead to new approaches to combatting Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Photo credit: Janet Iwasa