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Jason Shepherd, PhD

Languages spoken: English

Academic Information

Departments: Neurobiology - Associate Professor, Biochemistry - Adjunct Associate Professor, Ophthalmology/Visual Sciences - Adjunct Associate Professor

Academic Office Information

(801) 585-6214

James LeVoy Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building
Neurobiology and Anatomy
36 South Wasatch Drive, Room: 4539
Salt Lake City, UT 84112


Research Interests

  • Neurodegenerative Diseases
  • Neurosciences
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders
  • Synaptic Transmission
  • Synaptic Membranes
  • Synaptic Plasticity
  • Learning and Memory
  • Receptor Trafficking
  • Immediate-Early Proteins
  • Endocytosis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Angelman Syndrome
  • Fragile X Syndrome
  • Rett Syndrome
  • Alzheimer's Disease

Brains have an amazing ability to learn and store information for long periods - in some cases, a lifetime. A major challenge in neuroscience is to understand how neuronal networks are sculpted by experience and how proteins/genes contribute to circuit modification. The goal of our research is to understand information storage, from the molecular level through in vivo neuronal networks and how these processes go awry in neurological disorders. My lab utilizes coordinated biochemical, cell biological, electrophysiological and imaging studies both in vitro and in vivo.

We recently discovered a novel mechanism of neuronal communication that resembles the life-cycle of retroviruses ( . The neuronal gene Arc, a master regulator of synaptic plasticity and memory, contains a Gag retroviral homology domain that has conserved secondary structure with HIV-1 that is derived from a distinct family of retrotransposons. Arc protein self-assembles into viral-like capsids that are released from cells and carry RNA/proteins to neighboring cells. Our findings open up a new area of investigation in the cell biology of cell-to-cell communication, by revealing that some retrotransposon-derived genes retain the ability to form capsids that shuttle RNAs and proteins between cells. Ongoing projects in the lab aim to dissect this new intercellular pathway that intersects diverse fields of biology that include virology, extracellular communication, evolutionary biology, gene delivery and neuroscience.

Projects in the lab include:

The synaptic engram - how networks of cells encode, store and retrieve information

How experience sculpts the brain, using in vivo 2-photon imaging in the visual cortex

The synaptic dysfunction that underlies neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's Disease and autism spectrum disorders

Trafficking of neurotransmitter receptors at synapses

Education History

Postdoctoral Fellowship The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
K99 award
Postdoctoral Fellow
Postdoctoral Fellowship Howard Hughes Medical Institute
The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Postdoctoral Fellow
Doctoral Training The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Graduate Training University of California, Irvine
Neurobiology and Behavior Graduate Program as an Exchange Abroad Scholar (counted towards undergraduate degree)
Undergraduate University of Otago
First Class Honours in Neuroscience
Other Training Intercultural Exchange in Switzerland, Kantonschule Trogen
American Field Scholar (AFS)

Global Impact

Awards & Honors

Description Country
Peter and Patricia Gruber International Research Award in Neuroscience Global
International Society for Neurochemistry Young Investigator Award Global