(recorded in 1998)
Carla Shatz is known for her ongoing studies of how the orderly sets of connections present in the adult brain are wired up during development. This research, and its relevance to child development and learning, has been widely recognized. 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 the Nobel Laureates David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel. In 1978, Shatz moved to Stanford University, where she attained the rank of 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. In 2000, she became chair of the department of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School as the Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology. She is currently the Director of BioX, and a Professor of Biology and Neurobiology at Stanford University.
Shatz describes her studies in how the brain develops through the way it "sees" and processes visual information. Genes convey the basic framework for the wiring and structure of the brain, she explains, and experience customizes and specializes it. In all mammals, including humans, the connections from the eye to part of the brain where visual information is processed form before birth. If the sending of information is blocked during fetal development or early childhood, she says, the wiring for sight doesn't form properly.
Shatz explains what happens when the brain is damaged, and that it can remodel its wiring more than previously thought by scientists. She describes an avenue of research that focuses on identifying the molecules that stabilize and maintain connections in the brain. A question being pursued is whether wiring can be changed depending on the level of nerve growth factor present. She also talks about factors that might affect brain development in the fetus. (31 minutes)
Last Updated: 07-26-2004
The audio files linked above are part of the National Academy of Sciences InterViews series. Opinions and statements included in these audio files are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Academy of Sciences.