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Dr. Shatz’s research aims to understand how early developing brain circuits are transformed into adult connections during critical periods of development. Her work, which focuses on the development of the mammalian visual system, has relevance not only for treating disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, but also for understanding how the nervous and immune systems interact. Dr. Shatz graduated from Radcliffe College in 1969 with a B.A. in Chemistry. She was honored with a Marshall Scholarship to study at University College London, where she received an M.Phil. in Physiology in 1971. In 1976, she received a Ph.D. in Neurobiology from Harvard Medical School, where she studied with Nobel Laureates David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel. During this period, she was appointed as a Harvard Junior Fellow. From 1976 to 1978 she obtained postdoctoral training with Dr. Pasko Rakic in the Department of Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School. In 1978, Dr. Shatz moved to Stanford University, where she attained the rank of Professor of Neurobiology in 1989. In 1992, she moved her laboratory to the University of California, Berkeley, where she was Professor of Neurobiology and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. From 2000-2007 she was Chair of the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and the Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology. Dr. Shatz has received many awards including the Gill Prize in Neuroscience in 2006. In 1992, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in 1995 to the National Academy of Sciences, in 1997 to the American Philosophical Society, in 1999 to the Institute of Medicine, and in 2011 she was elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London. Dr. Shatz was awarded the Gerard Prize in Neuroscience from the 40,000 member Society for Neuroscience, and in 2015, the Gruber Prize in Neuroscience. In 2016, she was the recipient of the Champalimaud Vision Prize, and the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience for the discovery of mechanisms that allow experience and neural activity to remodel brain circuits. In 2018 she received the Harvey Prize in Science and Technology.
By studying the visual system of mammals, the Shatz Lab discovered that adult wiring emerges from dynamic interactions between neurons involving neural function and synaptic plasticity. Even before birth and long before vision, the eye spontaneously generates and sends coordinated patterns of neural activity to the brain. Blocking this activity in utero, or preventing vision after birth, disrupts normal tuning up of circuits and brain wiring. In turn, neural activity regulates the expression of genes involved in the process of circuit tuning. To discover cell and molecular underpinnings of circuit tuning, her lab has conducted functional screens for genes regulated by neural activity. Among these genes is the MHC (major histocompatibility) Class I family. This finding was very surprising because these genes- HLA genes in humans- are involved in cellular immunity and were previously not thought to be expressed by neurons at all! The Shatz Lab showed that other components of a signaling system for Class I MHC are also present in neurons, including a novel receptor, PirB. By studying and/or generating knockout mice, the lab is exploring a role for these molecules in synaptic plasticity, learning, memory and neurological disorders. The lab employs a variety of approaches in these studies, ranging from molecular biology to slice electrophysiology to in vivo imaging to behavior. Research has relevance not only for understanding brain wiring and developmental disorders such as Autism and Schizphrenia, but also for understanding how the nervous and immune systems interact.