Carla J. Shatz

Stanford University

Election Year: 1995
Primary Section: 24, Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
Secondary Section: 28, Systems Neuroscience
Membership Type: Member

Research Interests

My research in neuroscience concerns the mechanisms of wiring connections in the developing mammalian central nervous system. Our studies of the visual system have shown that the fetal brain is not simply a miniature version of the adult. Rather, it is a progressively changing structure in which the adult sets of connections emerge only gradually as a consequence of dynamic cellular interactions. In the forming cerebral cortex, my laboratory has demonstrated a requirement for interactions mediated by a unique set of neurons (subplate neurons) and their circuits that are present only in development and disappear by cell death after birth. We have also discovered that the fetal eye spontaneously generates its own neural signals before the rods and cones necessary for vision are even present. These signals are coordinated among hundreds of neurons in the eye—the retinal ganglion cells—in the form of waves of neural activity, and they are then relayed to the brain, where they influence the activity and gene expression of target neurons. Moreover, this signaling is required for the adult precision of connectivity between eye and brain to emerge; blockade of neural activity in utero causes abnormal patterns of connections to form. These observations may help to explain not only how the brain achieves its extraordinary precision of connectivity during development, but also the devastating effects of drugs of abuse that cross the placenta and alter neural activity in the developing human fetal brain.

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