Christopher A. Walsh

Harvard University


Primary Section: 24, Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
Secondary Section: 26, Genetics
Membership Type: Member (elected 2018)

Biosketch

Christopher A. Walsh is a neurologist recognized for work on genes and mechanisms regulating the development of the cerebral cortex.  Born in New Jersey, he studied chemistry at Bucknell University, and completed MD and PhD degrees (in Neurobiology) at the University of Chicago.  Following neurology residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School, he joined the faculty at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in 1993, and he has been the Bullard Professor at Harvard since 1999.  From 2003-2007 he directed the Harvard-MIT MD-PhD training program. In 2006 he became Chief of the Division of Genetics and Genomics at Boston Children’s Hospital, which cares for children with rare genetic diseases.  Dr. Walsh has been recognized by research awards from the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, the American College of Medical Genetics, the American Academy of Neurology, the American Neurological Association, the American Epilepsy Society, and the Perl-Neuroscience Award from the University of North Carolina.  In addition to the National Academy of Sciences, he is an elected member of the American Association of Physicians, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Research Interests

Dr. Walsh’s research focuses on the development, function, and evolution of the human cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for many traits we think of as uniquely human, such as intelligence, language, art, and creativity.  His work has ranged from studying the basic biology of neural stem cell proliferation and neuronal migration during prenatal development, to the identification of genes underlying dozens of human genetic disorders associated with autism, intellectual disability, seizures, and cerebral palsy.  He has discovered that a few of the disease-associated genes required for normal human cortical development—especially those regulating neural stem cells to control overall brain size--were important targets of the evolutionary processes that shaped our human brain.  Recently his lab pioneered methods for sequencing the genome of single neurons from post-mortem human brain, showing that each neuronal genome shows hundreds to thousands of unique mutations.  Some of these mutations occur during the cell divisions of brain development, representing a forensic map of the development of brain (and other tissues).  Surprisingly, additional mutations accumulate progressively with age even in neurons that don’t undergo cell division, a phenomenon called genosenium, or genome aging; these mutations accumulate faster in some forms of neurological degeneration. 

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