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Carla Shatz graduated from Radcliffe College in 1969 with a B.A. in chemistry. She received an M.Phil. in Physiology from the University College London in 1971 on a Marshall Scholarship. 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. 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 began her studies of the development of the mammalian visual system in the department of neurobiology. She became 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, where she became a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
During 1994-1995 she was president of the Society for Neuroscience and served on the Council of the National Academy of Sciences from 1998 to 2001. From 2000 until 2007, she was the chair of the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and the Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology. She also helped to develop the Harvard Center for Neurodegeneration and Repair (now named the NeuroDiscovery Center) and led the Harvard Center for Brain Imaging. Dr. Shatz is the inaugural chair holder of The Sapp Family Provostial Professorship, holds professorship appointments in both the Biology department (School of Humanities and Sciences) and in Neurobiology (School of Medicine) and is director of the Bio-X program at Stanford University School of Medicine.
Dr. Shatz is one of the pioneers who determined some of the basic principles of early brain development. She found that the spontaneous activity of neurons in utero is critical for the formation of precise and orderly neural connections in the central nervous system. Her recent work shows that waves of spontaneous activity in the retina can alter gene expression and the strength of synaptic connections.
Dr. Shatz's many honors include:
- Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award,
- Gill Prize presented by the Indiana University Gill Center for Biomolecular Sciences,
- Silvo Conte Award from the National Foundation for Brain Research,
- Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Health and Education,
- Alcon Award for Outstanding Contributions to Vision Research,
- Bernard Sachs Award from the Child Neurology Society,
- Weizmann Women & Science Award.
- She has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Philosophical Society.
- In 1997 she was invited by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton to speak at the White House Conference on Early Childhood Development and Learning.
- In 2011 she was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London. 
- IN [ she received the Ralph W. Gerard Prize in Neuroscience
- Sretavan D, Shatz CJ. (1984) Prenatal development of individual retinogeniculate axons during the period of segregation. Nature 308(5962):845-8.
- McConnell SK, Ghosh A, Shatz CJ. (1989) Subplate neurons pioneer the first axon pathway from the cerebral cortex. Science 245(4921):978-82.
- Ghosh A, Antonini A, McConnell SK, Shatz CJ.(1990) Requirement for subplate neurons in the formation of thalamocortical connections. Nature 347(6289):179-81.
- Meister M, Wong RO, Baylor DA, Shatz CJ. (1991) Synchronous bursts of action potentials in ganglion cells of the developing mammalian retina. Science 252(5008):939-43.
- Ghosh A, Shatz CJ. (1992) Involvement of subplate neurons in the formation of ocular dominance columns. Science 255(5050):1441-3.
- Wong RO, Chernjavsky A, Smith SJ, Shatz CJ. (1995) Early functional neural networks in the developing retina. Nature 374(6524):716-8.
- Katz LC, Shatz CJ. (1996) Synaptic activity and the construction of cortical circuits. Science 274(5290):1133-8. Review
- Penn AA, Riquelme PA, Feller MB, Shatz CJ. (1998) Competition in retinogeniculate patterning driven by spontaneous activity. Science 279(5359):2108-12.
- Catalano SM, Shatz CJ. (1998) Activity-dependent cortical target selection by thalamic axons. Science 281(5376):559-62.
- Stellwagen D, Shatz CJ, and Feller MB. (1999) Dynamic processes of a developing retinal circuit are controlled by c-AMP, Neuron 24: 673-685.
- Huh GS, Du H, Boulanger LM, Riquelme P, Brotz TM, and Shatz CJ. (2000) Functional requirement for Class I MHC in CNS development and plasticity. Science 290:2155-2159.
- Man-Kit Lam D and Shatz CJ. (Eds.) Development of the Visual System. MIT Press, 1991. ISBN 0-262-12154-9.
- Stellwagen D, Shatz CJ. (2002) An instructive role for retinal waves in the development of retinogeniculate connectivity. Neuron 33:357-367.
- Kanold PO, Kara P, Reid RC, and Shatz CJ. (2003) The subplate is required for functional maturation of visual cortical columns. Science 301:521-525.
- Boulanger LM, Shatz CJ. (2004) Immune signaling in neural development, synaptic plasticity, and disease. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 5: 521-531.
- Tagawa Y, Kanold PO, Majdan M, Shatz CJ. (2005) Multiple periods of functional ocular dominance plasticity in mouse visual cortex. Nature Neuroscience 8(3):380-8.
- Kanold PO, Shatz CJ. (2006) Subplate neurons regulate maturation of cortical inhibition and outcome of ocular dominance plasticity. Neuron 51(5):627-38.
- Syken J, Grandpre T, Kanold PO, Shatz CJ. (2006) PirB restricts ocular-dominance plasticity in visual cortex. Science 313(5794):1795-800.
- Majdan M, Shatz CJ. (2006) Effects of visual experience on activity-dependent gene regulation in cortex. Nature Neuroscience 9(5):650-9.