Vilaiwan Fernandes 

Post-Doctoral Fellow

(212) 992-9523


2014. Simon Fraser University. PhD.


Glial cells make up over half the volume of the human brain. Not surprisingly, they are central to several brain pathologies. While we now recognize that glia can regulate synaptogenesis, ionic and neurotransmitter homeostasis, immune responses, and indeed, every major aspect of nervous system development, function and disease, our understanding of these diverse cell types is still superficial. I study how interactions between glia and neurons sculpt various aspects of nervous system development.

The Drosophila visual system is an excellent paradigm for nervous system development and function. For both the fly and the vertebrate visual systems, light
from the 3D world reaches a 2D sheet of photoreceptors (the
retina). In flies, photoreceptor axons carry signals from the retina into the optic lobes to a sequence of neuronal processing layers, which are organized into four neuropils: lamina, medulla, lobula and lobula plate. Each of these neuropils mirrors the 2D spatial organization of the retina. This topographic correspondence across processing layers, termed ‘retinotopy’, is developmentally programmed. As a postdoctoral fellow in the Desplan lab I have uncovered an unexpected and crucial role for glia in this developmental mechanism. Specifically, I have found that during development, glia relay cues from photoreceptors to induce lamina neuronal differentiation from a pool of precursors.

My goal is to continue addressing fundamental questions about how glial cells contribute to neuronal development, fate and circuit function.








Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship – Canadian Institutes of Health Research – currentNatural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship (2015-2017)

Selected Publications

2017 Fernandes, V.M., Chen, Z., Rossi, A.M., Zipfel, J. and Desplan, C. (2017) Glia relay differentiation cues to coordinate neuronal development in Drosophila. Science. In Press.
2016 Rossi, A. M.*, Fernandes, V.M.* and Claude Desplan. Timing temporal transitions during brain development. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 42:84-92.

*Equal Contribution

2016 Chen, Z., Rodriguez, A.D.V., Li, X., Erclik, T. Fernandes, V.M.* and Desplan, C.* A Unique Class of Neural Progenitors in the Drosophila Optic Lobe Generates Both Migrating Neurons and Glia. Cell reports 15: 1–13.

*Corresponding Authors

2015 Fernandes, V.M., Desplan, C. Neurobiology: Inversion in the worm. Nature 523(7558):44-45.