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The annual lecture is held in honour of Sir Charles Sherrington, former Waynflete Professor of Physiology and Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine Laureate, who coined the word "synapse."

Black and white formal portrait of Charles Sherrington.

On Thursday 25 April 2019, the Department hosted the annual Charles Sherrington Lecture.

Charles Sherrington (1857 - 1952) came to the Department in 1913 as the Waynflete Professor of Physiology; Charles was recommended for the chair unanimously without any other candidates being considered. He said of Oxford that its real function in the world “is to teach…what is not yet known”.

While at Oxford, Sherrington kept hundreds of microscope slides in a specially constructed box labelled Sir Charles Sherrington’s Histology Demonstration Slideswhich has been preserved and is kept in the Department today.

Sherrington received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1932 with Edgar Adrian for their work on the functions of neurons. Prior to the work of Sherrington and Adrian, it was widely accepted that reflexes occurred as isolated activity within a reflex arc; instead Sherrington and Adrian showed that reflexes require integrated activation and demonstrated reciprocal innervation of muscles, a principle now known as Sherrington's Law. 

This year's lecture, entitled Synapses lost and found: Developmental critical periods and Alzheimer’s disease was given by Dr Carla J. Shatz FRS, Royal Society Fellow, Sapp Family Provostial Professor of Biology and Neurobiology and the David Starr Jordan Director of Bio-X, Stanford University’s pioneering interdisciplinary Biosciences programme. 


Carla Shatz studied Chemistry at Radcliffe College, before undertaking an M.Phil in Physiology at University College London as a Marshall Scholar, and a PhD in Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. Dr Shatz has enjoyed an impressive career, joining Stanford University in 1978, UC Berkeley in 1992, and became Harvard Medical School's first woman Chair of the Department of Neurobiology in 2000, before returning to Stanford in 2007 to direct Bio-X.

Dr Shatz has earned many honours and awards, including election to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the Royal Society of London. She received the Gruber Neuroscience Prize in 2015. In 2016, she was the recipient of the Champalimaud Vision Prize, and the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience for the discovery of mechanisms that allow experience and neural activity to remodel brain circuits. In 2018, she received the Harvey Prize in Science and Technology from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.

Dr Shatz is a Neuroscientist who has devoted her career to understanding the dynamic interplay between genes and environment that shapes brain circuits - the very essence of our being. 


I'm delighted and honoured to be here today, especially because Sherrington coined the phrase "synapse," which is wonderful as synapses and synaptic remodelling are the focus of my lecture and life's research.
- Dr Carla J. Shatz FRS



View more pictures of the lecture, and the following drinks reception.

Find out more about Charles Sherrington's life.