Carla J. Shatz

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Carla J. Shatz
Carla shatz.jpg
Alma mater
Known forRole of neuronal activity in maturation of brain circuits
Scientific career
InstitutionsHoward Hughes Medical Institute
Stanford University
Harvard University
University of California, Berkeley
Doctoral advisorsDavid Hubel, Torsten Wiesel
Other academic advisorsPasko Rakic
InfluencedMarla Feller

Carla J. Shatz (born 1947) is an American neurobiologist and an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,[1] the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences,[2] and the National Academy of Medicine.

She was the first woman to receive a PhD in neurobiology from Harvard.[3][4] Shatz received a tenured position in the basic sciences at Stanford Medical School and later returned to Harvard to head the university's Department of Neurobiology. In both cases, Shatz was the first woman hired for the position.[5][3]


Shatz graduated from Radcliffe College in 1969 with a BA in chemistry. She received an MPhil in Physiology from the University College London in 1971 on a Marshall Scholarship. In 1976, she received a PhD in neurobiology from Harvard Medical School, where she studied with the Nobel laureates David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel. From 1976 to 1978 she obtained postdoctoral training with Pasko Rakic in the department of neuroscience, Harvard Medical School.

In 1978, Shatz moved to Stanford University, where she began her studies of the development of the mammalian visual system in the department of Neurobiology. She became professor of neurobiology in 1989. In 1992, she moved her laboratory to the department of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, where she became a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator in 1994. During 1994–1995, she was president of the Society for Neuroscience and served on the Council of the National Academy of Sciences from 1998 to 2001.

In 2000, Shatz was named the Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. She chaired the Department of Neurobiology from 2000 to 2017 and was the first woman to do so.[3] Regarding her departure from Stanford, she stated "I couldn't turn [the job] down because I felt I was on a mission to represent women at the highest levels."[5] Shatz helped to develop the Harvard Center for Neurodegeneration and Repair (now named the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center[6]) and led the Harvard Center for Brain Imaging.

Shatz currently holds professorship appointments in both the Department of Biology (School of Humanities and Sciences) and in Neurobiology (School of Medicine) and is The Catherine Holman Johnson Director of Stanford Bio-X at Stanford University. She was the inaugural chair of The Sapp Family Provostial Professorship. She also served on the Life Sciences jury for the Infosys Prize in 2011.


Shatz is one of the pioneers who determined some of the basic principles of early brain development. She found that the spontaneous activity of neurons in utero is critical for the formation of precise and orderly neural connections in the central nervous system.[7] She discovered that waves of spontaneous activity in the retina can alter gene expression and the strength of synaptic connections.[8] In 2000, Shatz and colleagues identified MHC Class I molecules as important for neuronal plasticity, a surprising new role for molecules previously thought to have only immune system function.[9][10]

Shatz is credited with coining a well-known sentence summarizing Hebbian theory: "Cells that fire together, wire together." Although a similar phrase might first have appeared in print in Siegrid Löwel's Science article in January 1992, Shatz had been using it in lectures for a number of years before. In her September 1992 Scientific American article, she wrote, "Segregation to form the columns in the visual cortex [...] proceeds when the two nerves are stimulated asynchronously. In a sense, then, cells that fire together wire together. The timing of action-potential activity is critical in determining which synaptic connections are strengthened and retained and which are weakened and eliminated."[11]


Shatz has received the following awards and honors:

She has been elected to numerous professional societies:

In 1997, Shatz was invited by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton to speak at the White House Conference on Early Childhood Development and Learning.[23]


  1. ^ "Carla Jo Shatz". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved December 9, 2021.
  2. ^ "Carla J. Shatz". Retrieved December 9, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Paul, C. A (2005). "An Interview with Carla Shatz – Harvard's First Female Neurobiology Chair". Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education. 3 (2): E4–5. PMC 3592607. PMID 23495301.
  4. ^ "Neurobiologist Carla Shatz shares her perspective – Scope Blog". February 11, 2016. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Davies, Daniel M. (2013). Compatibility Gene. Allen Lane. p. 150. ISBN 978-1846145148.
  6. ^ "Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center".
  7. ^ Shatz, C. J; Stryker, M. P (1978). "Ocular dominance in layer IV of the cat's visual cortex and the effects of monocular deprivation". The Journal of Physiology. 281: 267–83. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.1978.sp012421. PMC 1282696. PMID 702379.
  8. ^ Feller, M. B; Wellis, D. P; Stellwagen, D; Werblin, F. S; Shatz, C. J (1996). "Requirement for cholinergic synaptic transmission in the propagation of spontaneous retinal waves". Science. 272 (5265): 1182–7. Bibcode:1996Sci...272.1182F. doi:10.1126/science.272.5265.1182. PMID 8638165. S2CID 11295283.
  9. ^ Huh, G. S; Boulanger, L. M; Du, H; Riquelme, P. A; Brotz, T. M; Shatz, C. J (2000). "Functional requirement for class I MHC in CNS development and plasticity". Science. 290 (5499): 2155–9. Bibcode:2000Sci...290.2155H. doi:10.1126/science.290.5499.2155. PMC 2175035. PMID 11118151.
  10. ^ "Molecules key to immune system also play role in brain". April 2009. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  11. ^ Shatz, Carla J. (September 1992). "The Developing Brain". Scientific American. 267 (3): 60–7. Bibcode:1992SciAm.267c..60S. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0992-60. JSTOR 24939213. PMID 1502524.
  12. ^ a b c d e "Society for Neuroscience". Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  13. ^ "2010 Keynote – Carla Shatz". Vision Sciences Society. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
  14. ^ "Weizmann Women in Science Award Recipients". Weizmann Institute of Science. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
  15. ^ "Society for Neuroscience Announces Science Achievement Awards". Society for Neuroscience. October 17, 2009. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
  16. ^ "Ralph W. Gerard Prize in Neuroscience Recognizes Outstanding Contributions of Carla Shatz". Society for Neuroscience. November 12, 2011. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  17. ^ "Pioneer in Neural Development Carla Shatz, PhD, Wins Prestigious Prize". Columbia University Irving Medical Center. February 19, 2013. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
  18. ^ "Carla Shatz, 2015 Neuroscience Prize, Laureate Profile". The Gruber Foundation. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
  19. ^ "Carla Shatz wins Kavli Neuroscience Prize". News Center. June 2, 2016. Retrieved December 14, 2021.
  20. ^ "Carla Shatz wins the 2016 Antonio Champalimaud Vision Award!". Stanford BioX. September 6, 2016. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  21. ^ Collins, Nathan (February 1, 2018). "Shatz wins Harvey Prize in Science and Technology". Retrieved September 30, 2021.
  22. ^ "Carla Shatz". Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  23. ^ "White House Conference on Early Childhood Development & Learning". Retrieved December 23, 2017.

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