Neurobiology & Anatomy Department

Neuroscience & Developmental Biology

The Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy at the University of Utah is vibrant and growing, with seven faculty added to the department in the past three years, including four assistant professor hires. We continue to expand our strength in developmental biology, including early embryonic development, neurogenesis, and synapse formation, as well as in functional neuroscience, utilizing molecular and genetic approaches as well as physiology and behavior. The department is an integral part of campus-wide neuroscience and developmental biology communities.

We are strongly committed to graduate and postdoctoral training, emphasizing both research excellence and professional development. We also have a strong tradition of excellence in medical education and scholarship.

Faculty Highlight: Jason Shepherd

Shepherd Chan-Zuckerberg

 2018 was a remarkable year for Jason Shepherd, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy, beginning with publication of a key paper in Cell on January 11:“The Neuronal Gene Arc Encodes a Repurposed Retrotransposon Gag Protein that Mediates Intercellular mRNA Transfer”. This publication described the pioneering discovery that the Arc protein could assemble into viral-like capsids and mediate intercellular RNA transfer in the brain. The paper garnered major national and international coverage in both the lay and scientific press.

The excitement around this work has led to numerous speaking engagements at universities and conferences around the world, including a TedMed talk in November.  He was also invited to participate as a delegate in the 53rd annual International Achievement Summit in NYC in September, 2019.

To cap the year, Jason learned in November that he was selected for the Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award ($2.5M over 5 years) from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI).  This award will enable Jason to significantly expand his research program and apply his innovative discoveries on ARC-mediated RNA transfer to the field of Alzheimer’s research. In the summer he was also awarded an Alzheimer’s Association International Research Grant.

Jason joined the department in January 2013 and has built an exciting research program with a talented team. He is currently recruiting new postdocs.

Welcome!

We are very pleased to welcome two new faculty to the department in 2019:

Zelikowsky

 Dr. Moriel Zelikowsky received her Ph.D in Psychology from UCLA in 2011, where she investigated the role of the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex in fear learning, memory and extinction in the laboratory of Michael Fanselow.  She then pursued her postdoctoral training in the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering at Caltech in the laboratory of David J. Anderson, where she identified a role for the neuropeptide Tac2 in the control of prolonged social isolation stress.

Moriel will combine her expertise in animal behavior and systems neuroscience towards investigating the neural circuitry and molecular mechanisms underlying stress, anxiety and social behavior.  By applying cutting-edge molecular genetic tools to further our understanding of animal behavior and emotion, she aims to identify novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of mental health-related disorders such as PTSD, anxiety and depression.

 

Heys

 Dr. Jim Heys was awarded a Ph.D. in Neuroscience in 2013 working with Dr. Michael Hasselmo at Boston University where he examined the neural encoding of 3D space and discovered fundamental differences in the way species represent their own location. He then pursued postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Daniel Dombeck at Northwestern University where he discovered principles for the topographic organization of cells that encode spatial information in the brain, and also identified neuronal populations in the hippocampus that represent elapsed time and are involved in representation of space and time for episodic memory.

The overarching goal of Jim’s research is to understand the neural mechanisms by which memories are encoded and recalled in the brain. He uses cellular and subcellular resolution functional imaging methods to monitor and manipulate the activity of hundreds of neurons simultaneously in the intact brain of the mouse during memory guided behavior. Ultimately, he will investigate how specific neural mechanisms that underlie memory formation may breakdown in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

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DEPARTMENT CHAIR MONICA VETTER

Monica Vetter
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