Maria de la paz Fernandez, PhD

Departments and Divisions

  • Department of Neuroscience & Behavior (Barnard College)

Academic Appointments

  • Assistant Professor
Maria  de la paz Fernandez, PhD

Circadian systems evolved as a mechanism that allows organisms to maintain internal temporal order and anticipate the daily environmental changes caused by the rotation of Earth. Although the biochemical components underlying the molecular oscillations have been well characterized, less is known about the physiological mechanisms that connect clock neuron networks to their output pathways and allow the circadian control of physiology and behavior. Timing of behavioral outputs is essential for survival, as it determines an animal`s ability to be physiologically ready for resources and potential mates. In this context, aggression is a key behavioral pattern, which likely evolved in the context of competition over limited resources. Although interactions between genes, environmental signals, and hormones influence the manifestation of aggression, the core circuitry underlying aggressive behavior appears to be hardwired in the nervous system, as animals with no previous social experience can engage in normal agonistic encounters. As for most species, aggression in Drosophila melanogaster is sex-specific, suggesting that it is differentially hardwired in the nervous systems of males and females. The study of innate sexually dimorphic behaviors in genetically tractable organisms offers unique opportunities to understand how the underlying neuronal circuitry is genetically specified.

We are interested in understanding the neuronal basis of sexual dimorphism both in behaviors that are profoundly dimorphic such as aggression as well as in behaviors that are common to males and females, such as sleep and circadian rhythms. Our work is focused on highly conserved molecular, neuronal, and physiological pathways controlling behaviors that are essential for survival across species, and Drosophilahas a proven record of providing major insights relevant to our understanding of such processes in mammals, including humans.

Committees / Societies / Memberships

Professional Affiliations

Society for Neuroscience (SfN)

International Society for Neuroethology (ISN)

Society for Research on Biological Rhythms (SRBR)


Fernández MP, Pettibone HL, Bogart J, Roell CJ, Davey CE, Pranevicius A, Huynh KV, Lennox SM, Kostadinov BS and Shafer OT. (2020). Sites of Circadian Clock Neuron Plasticity Mediate Sensory Integration and Entrainment. Current Biology 30, 1-13.

Jois S, Chan Y-B, Fernández MP and Leung A K-W. (2018). Characterization of the sexually dimorphic Fruitless neurons that regulate copulation duration. Frontiers in Physiology 9:780. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00780.

Kravitz EA and Fernández MP (2015). Aggression in Drosophila. Behavioral Neuroscience 129(5):549-563.

Alekseyenko OV, Chan YB, Fernández MP, Bülow T, Pankratz MJ, Kravitz EA (2014). Single Serotonergic Neurons that Modulate Aggression in Drosophila. Current Biology 24:2700-7.

Andrews JC, Fernández MP, Yu Q, Leary GP, Leung AK, Kavanaugh MP, Kravitz EA, Certel SJ (2014). Octopamine neuromodulation regulates gr32a-linked aggression and courtship pathways in Drosophila males. PLoS Genetics 10(5):e1004356.

Fernández MP and Kravitz EA (2013). Aggression and courtship in Drosophila: pheromonal communication and sex recognition. Journal of Comparative Physiology. 199:1065-76

Fernández MP#, Chan YB#, Yew JY, Billeter J-C, Dreisewerd K, Levine JD and Kravitz EA (2010). Pheromonal and Behavioral Cues Trigger Male-to-Female Aggression in Drosophila. PLoS Biology 8(11): e1000541.

Rezával C, Berni J, Gorostiza EA, Werbajh S, Fagilde MM, Fernández MP, Beckwith EJ, Aranovich EJ, Sabio y García CA and Ceriani MF (2008). A functional misexpression screen uncovers a role for enabled in progressive neurodegeneration. PLoS One 3: e3332

Fernández MP, Berni J and Ceriani MF (2008). Circadian remodeling of neuronal circuits involved in rhythmic behavior. PLoS Biology 6 (3):69

Berni J, Beckwith EJ, Fernández MP and Ceriani MF (2008). The axon-guidance roundabout gene alters the pace of the Drosophila circadian clock. European Journal of Neuroscience 27: 396-407

Stoleru D, Nawathean P, Fernández MP, Menet JS, Ceriani MF and Rosbash M (2007). The Drosophila circadian network is a seasonal timer. Cell 129: 207-219.

Fernández MP, Chu J, Villella A, Atkinson N, Kay SA and Ceriani MF (2007). Impaired clock output by altered connectivity in the circadian network. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 104: 5650-5655

Bekinschtein T, Negro, A, Goldin A, Fernández MP, Rosenbaum S and D.A. Golombek (2004). Seasonality in a native Mapuche population. Biological Rhythms Research 35: 145-152.