The University of Massachusetts Amherst

#FeaturedFacultyFriday: Stephanie Padilla

This week’s featured IALS Associated Faculty Member is Stephanie Padilla. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology. Padilla’s research is focused on two areas of interest understanding how sex hormones impact behavioral decisions and emotional state and resolving the neural circuitry underlying sex differences in body weight regulation.

Below, you will find our complete interview with Stephanie Padilla:

Q: What is the focus of your research? 

A: Sex steroid hormone fluctuations are known to influence activity and sleep patterns, body temperature, and also the emotional state of mammalian organisms. This state change is likely adaptive; serving to promote reproductive success. Our lab seeks to identify the mechanisms by which the sex steroid hormones are translated into behavioral and physiological outcomes in the nervous system. We have evidence to support that neuronal transmission from a population of kisspeptin-expressing neurons in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus (Kiss1ARH) can influence activity patterns, body temperature and mood in mice. Because Kiss1ARH neurons are sensitive to sex steroid hormones including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone; they are well positioned to mediate steroid-hormone related outcomes. Kiss1ARH neurons and their canonical signaling molecules are conserved in mice and humans. We aim to use the power of mouse genetics and contemporary tools in neuroscience to address the role of Kiss1ARH neurons in maladaptive outcomes related to sex steroid hormone fluctuations, such as postpartum depression, and also the vasomotor and body weight disruptions that are coincident with the loss of ovarian hormones during menopause.

Our lab is also working to develop and implement temperature therapeutics as strategies to treat mood disorders, improve sleep and to combat menopausal vasomotor symptoms in humans. We are working to create smart heating and cooling pads that will respond to physiological indicators of the human body. 


Q: Why did you choose to come to UMass?  

A: UMass has a rich community of both renowned and up-and-coming scientists with an interest in neuroendocrinology. Along with this, IALS offered the opportunity to springboard my research into translational studies toward improving human health and fitness.  

Q: How large is your lab? How many students work in your lab (including undergrad, graduate, and post-doc) (a possible quote from one of your students would be great).

A: 4 undergraduates, 2 technicians, 1 graduate student (MCB), 2 rotating graduate students

Q: Do you use any novel techniques or tools, or work with any unique materials for your research? 

A: Our lab uses a combination of mouse genetics and viral transgenes to manipulate genetically defined populations of neurons in awake-behaving mice. These tools allow us to probe the function of discrete neurons in behavioral and physiological outcomes within a mammalian organism. Furthermore, we perform functional circuit mapping using optogenetics to investigate the contribution of anatomically distinct neuron projections.

We are currently designing short guide RNAs to knockout genes in discrete neurons within the mouse brain using CRISPR-Cas.

Q: Have there been any major advances in your field or the technologies used in research since you were a grad student? Do you find yourself telling students “Well, when I was in school we didn’t have…”?

A: Advances in neuroscience tools have been vast. We can now manipulate or record from neurons while an animal is engaged in active behavior! Many of these tools including optogenetics, chemogenetics, and calcium indicators in combination with photometry/GRIN lens are contemporary, of the last 10-20 years.

Q: What is the most useful tool (i.e. specialty screwdriver, duct tape) in your lab, and why?

A: One of the most useful tools in my lab is Cre recombinase. This enzyme was hacked from a bacteriophage and is used as molecular scissors to edit the genome.

Q: What is your proudest moment ever? (science related or otherwise)

A: It is hard to beat the birth of a baby, but defending my thesis was also a very proud moment in my life

Q: Assuming your research is widely successful, how will it impact society?

A: First and foremost, I hope to have an impact on women’s health. Women suffer disproportionately from mood and sleep disruptions, and I aim to understand the circuitry and signaling molecules that influence these outcomes. Furthermore, I am working to develop temperature therapeutics as potential intervention strategies.

Alternate get-to-know-you-better questions: 

Q: What is your favorite book/movie/tv show? 

A: My favorite author is Cormac Mccarthy and one of my favorite books is Suttree. I subscribe to the Criterion Channel for movies, but on the lighter side, I also enjoyed watching Selling Sunset.

Q: Where is your favorite place to travel, or where would you like to travel? 

A: I visited New Zealand for a conference last year. It is an amazing and magical place. Second on my list of all-time greatest travels is Japan. 

Q: What is a new skill/hobby that you would like to learn? 

A: I am fascinated to discover nature along the hiking trail and love to learn about mushrooms and gems and minerals every place that I go.

Q: What is something about you that no-one else knows? (i.e. were you in a commercial as a child?)

A: I once talked a group of neighborhood kids into riding their bikes off of a flatbed truck. We hoisted our bikes onto the bed. Thankfully, I went first and was the sole participant in very bad idea. I went home with a few cuts and bruises that day.

Q: What is one challenge from COVID that you successfully overcame? 

A: I am no longer a skeptic of zoom or virtual meetings

Q: Does the love of science run in your family? 

A: My parents are both creative, but neither are in science.

Q: What was your worst job ever?

A: Cleaning house; I do it every week.

Q: Who do you admire and why?

A: My postdoctoral mentor, Richard Palmiter. He taught me a great deal about meeting a deadline and working hard. I think his success is a combination of a broad depth of knowledge and also a product of fostering creativity in his lab group by giving lab members independence. 

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: Albuquerque, NM

Q: Have you ever had a job in industry?

A: No