Talk Title: Virus-like intercellular communication in the nervous system
Abstract: Viruses and transposable elements are major drivers of evolution and make up over half the sequences in the human genome. In some cases, these elements are co-opted to perform biological functions for the host. We recently made the surprising observation that the neuronal gene Arc forms virus-like protein capsids that can transfer RNA between neurons to mediate a novel intercellular communication pathway. Phylogenetic analyses showed that mammalian Arc is derived from an ancient retrotransposon of the Ty3/gypsy family and contains homology to the retroviral Gag polyproteins. The Drosophila Arc homologs, which are independently derived from the same family of retrotransposons, also mediate cell-to-cell signaling of RNA at synapses; a striking example of convergent evolution. I will discuss how this novel intercellular communication may lead to insights into brain plasticity, memory and neurological disorders.
Jason Shepherd is an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and holds the Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Chair at the University of Utah. He obtained his BSc (Hons) at the University of Otago, his Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the recipient of the Peter and Patricia Gruber International Research Award in Neuroscience, the International Society for Neurochemistry Young Investigator Award, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award, the Research to Prevent Blindness Stein Innovation Award, the NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award, and is a National Academy of Sciences Kavli Fellow.