TEDMED: A U neurobiologist explains how viruses shape memory

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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