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Russell D. Fernald

Academic Appointments

  • Benjamin Scott Crocker Professor of Human Biology

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Contact Information

  • Academic Offices
    Personal Information
    Email Tel (650) 725-2460 Tel (650) 736-8005


Academic Appointments

Honors and Awards

  • Elected Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2011)
  • Rank Prize in Vision/Opto-electronics, Rank Foundation (February 2004)
  • Fellow-American Association for Advancement of Science, AAAS (2003)
  • Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (1999-2006)
  • NIH Fogarty Senior International Fellowship, NIH (1985-86)
  • Benjamin Scott Crocker Professor of Human Biology, Stanford University (1994-)
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Professional Education

PhD: University of Pennsylvania, Biophysics (1969)
B.S.: Swarthmore College, Electrical Engineering/Physics (1963)

Research & Scholarship

Current Research and Scholarly Interests

How does social experience influence the brain?
Our research is focused on understanding the mechanisms through which social change is transduced into cellular and molecular change. Sex is the most potent selective force acting on animal behavior, shaping many aspects of animals’ behavior and physiology. How is vertebrate sexual maturation and behavior controlled? Ultimately, males regulate reproductive opportunity and success through their behavior and social interactions, selecting a mate from among males on offer. Males use a variety of competitive strategies, evolved to impress females, intending to become the chosen one. Amongst males, there is typically a status hierarchy in which males compete for highest rank that brings with it a higher chance of being chosen because high status leads to reproductive opportunity and competence as well as access to females and food. Lower ranking animals often have limited access to food and reproduction and are reproductively incompetent. To understand the circuitry responsible for male reproduction, we study the neural mechanisms of social ascent, assessing the changes in males as they ascend from low to high status. We use a uniquely appropriate fish model system dominance is reflected in maintaining a territory so when a vacated territory becomes available, a low-ranking male must quickly detect his absence, seize the opportunity to acquire this valuable resource, and initiate a dramatic transformation that spans from whole-organism behavior and coloration changes, to hormonal, cellular, and transcriptional-level changes throughout the body. In fact, within a matter of minutes, his appearance and physiology has changed radically as he prepares for a new lifestyle as a dominant and reproductively active territory holder. But social ascent happens over two timescales. Following the rapid changes described above that occur in minutes, the reproductive system also needs to ramp up so the male has sperm for mating. Though both of these systems are triggered by the recognition of social opportunity, we can show that they comprise distinct circuits in which different neural peptides are activated to achieve the changes needed.




Prior Year Coursescourses of Russell Fernald

Graduate and Fellowship Program Affiliations



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