Dr. Carla Shatz is a woman of many firsts.

She began her career in neuroscience as the first undergraduate student of Drs. David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel of Harvard Medical School (yes, that Hubel and Wiesel who won the Nobel Prize for their work on the visual system in 1981).  After graduating from Radcliffe College with a B.A. in Chemistry in 1969, she received a Marshall Scholarship to study at University of College London.  There, she received an M.Phil in Physiology and then returned to Harvard to continue her work with Hubel and Wiesel.  In 1976, she was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in Neurobiology from Harvard Medical School.

As a postdoc, she spent a couple of years working with Dr. Pasko Rakic until she left for Stanford University in 1978.  She was the first woman to receive tenture in the basic sciences at Stanford and the first woman to be hired by the Stanford School of Medicine.

From there, she moved to UC Berkeley and then to Harvard (where she was Chair of the Department of Neurobiology), and returned to Stanford in 2007.  Still at Stanford, in addition to running her lab, she directs The Bio-X Initiative, an interdisciplinary program that unites engineering, computer science, physics, and chemistry with traditional biology and medicine, to study the complexity and find solutions to critical problems of the human body.

Dr. Shatz’s lab uses numerous methods, including molecular biology, slice physiology, behavior, and in vivo imaging, to study the development of the mammalian visual system.  A recent paper, “Neuroprotection from Stroke in the Absence of MHCI or PirB,” illustrates how her lab’s work expands well beyond the development of the visual system.  The paper applies the lab’s previous findings—that molecules important for the body’s immune response: major compatibility class I (MCHI) and its receptor, paired immunoglobulin-like receptor B (PirB), impair plasticity in the hippocampus and visual system—to the problem of recovery after stroke.  In this study, they use mice lacking two MCHI genes (H2-Kb and H2-Db) and mice lacking PirB, mimicking stroke with transient middle cerebral artery occlusion (MCAO) in vivo and oxygen glucose deprivation (OGD) in vitro.  After observing greater recovery in the KbDb and PirB knock-out mice, they suggest the development of therapies to target MCHI and PirB to improve recovery following stroke.

To learn more from this pioneering neuroscientist, please join us on Tuesday, March 19, 2013, at 4:00pm in the Large Conference Room of the Center for Neural Circuits & Behavior for Dr. Shatz’s talk, “Brain circuit tuning during developmental critical periods.” 

Fun fact: Dr. Shatz was the postdoc advisor to two 2012-2013 Neurosciences Seminar Series speakers, Marla Feller and the unfortunately ill and absent, Sue McConnell!


Adelson J., Barreto G., Xu L., Kim T., Brott B., Ouyang Y.B., Naserke T., Djurisic M., Xiong X. & Shatz C. & (2012). Neuroprotection from Stroke in the Absence of MHCI or PirB, Neuron, 73 (6) 1100-1107. DOI:

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About Kerin Higa

UCSD Neurosciences graduate student. I love science, art, and the internet. So much.

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