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Shannon Farris, Ph.D.

Shannon Farris, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Shannon Farris, Ph.D. headshot

"We want to know how the connections between individual neurons are changed or remodeled during learning.”

Examining how brain cell synapses are involved in learning, memory storage, and social behavior

How do we learn? And how is learning impacted by neurodevelopmental disorders?

Shannon Farris, Ph.D. studies the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying learning and how these processes are disrupted in neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorders. Dr. Farris strives to understand how neurons respond during learning and how those responses differ between cell types thought to store different aspects of memory, such as who, what, when, and where.

It’s widely believed that changes in the strength of specific synapses are the molecular correlate of memory storage in the brain. Neurons engaged during a learning experience often respond by altering the levels of transcription and translation of molecules needed for memory storage. One of the many challenges that neurons need to overcome is the distance between where molecules are made in the nucleus, and the synapse where they are needed, which is often hundreds of microns away. One way neurons achieve this is by localizing RNA molecules at the synapse, so that they can be rapidly translated in response to local cues, such as changes in the activity of specific inputs. These newly synthesized proteins can then remodel the strength of synaptic connections in an input- and synapse-specific fashion.

Dr. Farris’s lab is focused on investigating dendritically localized RNAs in area CA2 of the hippocampus, a subregion that is resistant to long-term potentiation - or synapse strengthening - and cell death. The CA2 subregion is thought to be required for storing social memory, or “the who” aspect of memory. Given that a number of neurodevelopmental disorders are characterized by disruptions in social processing, investigating the post-transcriptional mechanisms critical to CA2 function and gaining a comprehensive molecular understanding of how social experiences are stored in the brain may lead to novel therapies relevant for individuals with social deficits.

Her lab uses a combination of mouse genetics to gain access to specific hippocampal cell-types, deep sequencing technologies to obtain a genome-wide view of transcription and translation, and single molecule imaging techniques to illuminate the processes regulating dendritic RNA in vivo. Dr. Farris hopes to provide mechanistic insight on the behaviorally-induced synaptic modifications in the hippocampus that may be required for encoding social behavior.

  • Assistant Professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, School of Medicine

Shannon Farris, James M. Ward, Kelly E. Carstens, Mahsa Samadi, Yu Wang, Serena M. Dudek. (2019). Hippocampal Subregions Express Distinct Dendritic Transcriptomes that Reveal Differences in Mitochondrial Function in CA2. Cell Reports 29.

Steward O, Matsudaira KM, Farris S, Pirbhoy PS, Worley P, Okamura K, Okuno H, Bito H. (2018). Delayed degradation and impaired dendritic delivery of intron-lacking EGFP-Arc/Arg3.1 mRNA in EGFP-Arc transgenic mice. Frontiers Molecular Neuroscience 10(435).

Helton T, Zhao M, Farris S, Dudek SM. (2018). Diversity of dendritic morphology and entorhinal cortex synaptic effectiveness in mouse CA2 pyramidal neurons. Hippocampus.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health
Postdoctoral Fellow

  • University of California Irvine: Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences (Neuroscience)
  • California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo: B.S., Biochemistry, concentration in Molecular Biology
  • Best Poster Presentation Award, 14th annual NIEHS Science Day, 2016
  • NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE Award), 2016
  • Intramural Paper of the Month by Environmental Factor, NIEHS Newsletter, 2016
  • NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE Award), 2015
  • Poster Abstract Award, UT Austin Conference on Learning & Memory, 2015
  • Travel Award, UT Austin Conference on Learning & Memory, 2015
  • Best Poster Presentation Award, 11th annual NIEHS Science Day, 2013
  • Best Poster Award, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Meeting, 2012
  • Travel Award, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Meeting, 2012
  • Travel Award, NIH Graduate Student Research Conference, 2011
  • 1st Place Graduate Presentation Award, 21st Graduate Women in Science Conference

Videos with Dr. Farris

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