A headshot of Maria de la Paz Fernandez

On June 29, 2022, María de la Paz Fernández, assistant professor of neuroscience, along with incoming assistant professor Gabrielle Gutierrrez, three Barnard students and several other co-authors, had their research published by the scientific journal, eLife. Their article, titled “Connectomic analysis of the Drosophila lateral neuron clock cells reveals the synaptic basis of functional pacemaker classes,” examines synaptic connectivity within the clock network of Drosophila, a species of fruit flies that shares network motifs with clock networks in the mammalian brain, but is built of fewer neurons. The purpose of the study is to gain insight into the network properties of circadian timekeeping. 

Fernández and her co-authors, including Kimberly Li ’22, Amber Mildenhall ’23, Daphna Spira ’24, demonstrate that formerly identified functional and anatomical subclasses of lateral neurons embody distinct connectomic types. The researchers discovered a handful of non-clock cell subtypes representing highly synaptically coupled nodes within the clock neuron network, indicating that neurons lacking molecular timekeeping seem to play critical roles within the circadian timekeeping network. To the authors’ knowledge, these results are the first comprehensive connectomic analysis of a circadian neuronal network.