Kimberly D'Anna-Hernandez
Kimberly D'Anna-Hernandez
Assistant Professor of Psychology

Office: SBSB 3229
Phone: 760-750-8275
Hours: M 3:00-3:50PM, W 9:00-10:00AM
HomeEducationResearchCoursesVitaeMembersPast Members

Kimberly L. D'Anna-Hernandez, Ph.D. I joined the CSUSM  Psychology faculty in the Fall of 2011; my area of specialization is behavioral neuroscience. I completed my predoctoral work at Michigan State University and postdoctoral training with the Developmental Psychobiology Research Group at the University of Colorado Denver. Among my research interests are the role of stress/arousal peptides on maternal behavior in mice and the role of acculturation and other psychosocial measures on the biological response to stress in pregnant women, particularly Mexican and Mexican-American women.

Maternal Behavior Neuroendocrinology Lab

Picture of KDH Lab as of Summer 2014

MOMS Cultural Maternal Behavior Lab

MOMS Cultural Maternal Behavior Lab Picture.


2008      Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Madison; Zoology, Behavioral              Neuroscience

                      Advisor: Dr. Stephen Gammie, PhD                                                        

2003      B.S., Michigan State University; Zoology, Animal Behavior/Neurobiology


2010      Developmental Psychobiology Research Group Postdoctoral Fellow,              University of Colorado Denver

2008      National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellow

2007      Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship

2006      Diversity Program in Neuroscience Pre-Doctoral Fellowship, American              Psychological Association

2006      Business Forum Scholarship, Dane County Women's Business Forum

2003      Advanced Opportunity Fellowship, University of Wisconsin

Current Research

Mothers are essential to offspring well-being and survival. As such, situations that disrupt the maternal-infant bond (e.g. maternal depression, drug use) can be devastating to the health and welfare of offspring, and even fatal. Thus, it is important to identify factors that may motivate mothers to perform nurturing offspring-directed care. In the perinatal period, there are many neuromechanistic changes, such as alterations in the vigilance and reward systems in the brain that may motivate mothers to engage in maternal behavior. My long-term research objective is to use both behavioral and physiological measures to assess the impact of the prenatal environment (arousal, stress, mood, neuroendrocrine regulation) on subsequent developmental trajectories of offspring related to the vulnerability of depression.

Specifically I am interested in investigating the effects of acculturation in the US Mexican population on adverse perinatal outcomes via markers of prenatal stress and depression. My postdoctoral work demonstrated that acculturation (the adaptation of one culture to the norms of a majority culture) is associated with dysregulation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis during pregnancy that may lead to negative perinatal outcomes in the US Mexican population. I am now moving to investigate physiological and behavioral outcomes in children. As well, in postdoc, I was involved in developing and validating a new technique to measure chronic stress via cortisol in hair samples collected from mothers during the prenatal period. My current research seeks to examine maternal acculturative stress and depressive symptoms in the pregnant Mexican-American population and how this affects fetal programming of the HPA-axis in infants using this new method. While maternal HPA-axis functioning has been shown to lead to alterations in offspring HPA-functioning and increases in pathology later in life, there is no research examining the role of the fetal stress system. Thus, with this new method to obtain non-invasive long-term measures of cortisol obtained from maternal and infant hair (which is retrospectively representative of fetal cortisol levels); I can elucidate the relationship between the maternal-fetal stress systems and the subsequent contribution to childhood outcomes. I am actively collecting and analyzing hair samples from both mothers and their neonates. These data will help to refine my ideas about how stress is interpreted in the US Mexican population, identify cultural protective factors and inform my future research to test this paradigm in other racial/ethnic groups.

To do this I maintain both a mouse and human maternal behavior lab. The mouse lab involves a variety of behavioral (e.g. maternal behavior testing and stress-anxiety measures) as well as physiological measures looking at how the neurobiology of arousal and stress related peptides in the brain affect maternal behavior. As this type of work requires a lot of manpower, I am always looking for reliable and motivated students to assist with my research. Links for respective lab applications can be found below.

Mouse Lab - Application

Human Lab - Application

Psyc 391 Laboratory in Physiological Psychology: Teaches advanced research methods in physiological processes underlying brain function and behavior as well as application of methodological principles to research in such areas as neuroanatomy, physiology, behavioral neuroscience and psychopharmacology.

Psyc 360 Biopsychology: Introduction to the biological bases of behavior, including material central to physiological psychology, comparative psychology, behavioral genetics, and sensory psycho­logy. Issues to be addressed include but are not limited to neuroethology, behavioral endocrinology, evolutionary theory, sociobiology, and sensory systems.

Psyc 361 Brain and Mind: Examines the relationship between the brain, and how the brain produces behavior. Intended for non-majors, this course will review basic neuroanatomy and physiology, and consider mind/brain relations in the context of psychoactive drugs, brain development, neurological disorders, sexual behavior, and cognitive abilities such as language, memory, thinking, and consciousness.

A link to my current CV can be found here.


(*-denotes work with trainee coauthors)

D’Anna, KL, Hunter, SK, Zerbe, GO and Ross, RG (2013). Paternal substance abuse disorders worsen the trajectory of maternal depressive symptoms during the first year postpartum, Mental Illness: 5:e1.

*Hunter SK, Mendoza JH, D'Anna K, Zerbe G, McCarthy L, Hoffman C, Freedman R, Ross RG (2012). Antidepressants may mitigate the effects of prenatal maternal anxiety on infant auditory sensory gating. American Journal of Psychiatry: 169(6): 616-624.

D’Anna-Hernandez, KL, Hoffman , MC, Coussons-Read, ME, Laudenslager, ML, and Ross, RG. (2012). Maternal blunted cortisol slope during pregnancy is associated with acculturation and low infant birth weight in US Mexican women, Psychosomatic Medicine: 74(3):296-304

*Coussons-Read, ME, Lobel, MJ, Carey, JC, Kreither, MO, D’Anna, KL, Argys, L., Ross, RG, Brandt, C, Cole, S. (2012). The occurrence of preterm delivery is linked to pregnancy-specific distress and elevated inflammatory markers across gestation. Brain Behavior and Immunity: 26(4): 650-659.

D’Anna-Hernandez, KL, Ross, RG, Natvig CL, and Laudenslager, MLL. (2011). Hair cortisol levels as a marker of stress during pregnancy: Comparison to salivary cortisol, Physiology and Behavior. 104(2): 348-353.

Gammie SC, D’Anna KL, Gerstein H, Stevenson SA. (2009). Neurotensin inversely modulates maternal aggression. Neuroscience. 158(4): 1215-23.

D'Anna KL and Gammie SC. (2009). Activation of corticotropin-releasing factor receptor 2 in lateral septum negatively regulates maternal defense. Behavioral Neuroscience. 123(2): 356-68.

D'Anna KL, Stevenson SA, Gammie SC. (2008). Maternal profiling of corticotropin-releasing factor receptor 2 deficient mice in association with restraint stress. Brain Research. 1241: 110-21.

*Gammie SC, Edelmann MN, Mandel-Brehm C, D'Anna KL, Auger AP, Stevenson SA. (2008). Altered dopamine signaling in naturally occurring maternal neglect. PLoS ONE. 3(4): e1974.

D’Anna KL and Gammie SC. (2006). Hypocretin-1 dose-dependently modulates maternal behaviour in mice. Journal of Neuroendocrinology. 18(8):553-66.

D’Anna, KL., Stevenson, SA and Gammie, SC. (2005). Urocortin 1 and Urocortin 3 impair maternal defense behavior in mice. Behavioral Neuroscience, 119(4):1061-71.

Gammie SC, Hasen NS, Stevenson SA, Bale TL, D’Anna, KL. (2005). Elevated stress sensitivity in corticotropin-releasing factor receptor 2 deficient mice decreases maternal, but not intermale aggression. Behavioural Brain Research, 160(1):169-77.

Book Chapters and Reviews

Gammie, SC, D’Anna, KL, Lee, G, Stevenson, SA. 2008. Role of Corticotropin releasing factor-related peptides in the neural regulation of maternal defense. In R.S. Bridges (Eds.), Neurobiology of Parental Brain. Elsevier. 101-114

D’Anna-Hernandez, KL. The Oxford Handbook of Psychoneuroimmunology Book Review. Brain, Behavior and Immunity: in press.

Maternal Behavior Neuroendocrinology Lab

Erin K. Lane - Supervisor

I received both my BA in Psychology and MA in Experimental Psychology from Cal State San Marcos.  Even as a student, my research has focused on animal behavior, including snake recognition in Geoffroy’s marmosets, and sexual selection in bearded dragon lizards.  As the supervisor of the D’Anna-Hernandez mouse lab, I help conduct and supervise research in stress and depression and its effects on maternal behavior in mice.  I continue to be interested in questions regarding the evolution of traits and behavior, animal communication, as well as learning and cognition. 

Alex Kowalczyk

Class: Graduate Student

I started my career in neuroscience when I worked at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, CA, where I worked in Dr. Paul Sawchenko’s Lab of Neuronal Structure and Functioning.  While there, I was trained on a lot of neuroscience research methods for mice and rats, such as brain histology and general lab techniques.  This continued when I attended UC Davis, and worked at the M.I.N.D. Institute using the same techniques on monkey brain tissue.  While at UC Davis I also worked with Dr. Karen Bales studying neuroendocrinology of monogamous behaviors in prairie voles.  Now I am interested in seeing how peptides related to stress and arousal interact in terms of maternal behavior in mice, and what this interaction might look like in the brains of lactating mice.  I joined Dr. Kimberly D’Anna-Hernandez’s lab in the summer of 2012, and I am currently on track to graduate the CSU San Marcos Masters Program in Experimental Psychology by the end of summer of 2014.  My future goals include understanding how stress peptides affect the brain, physiology, behavior, behavioral development, as well as generational affects of stress and stress peptides on rodents.

Michael McCreary

Class: Graduate Student

I began my undergraduate education at CSUSM in 2005 but ended up completing my general education at Palomar College.  I received training in laboratory procedures by being a Teaching Assistant for the psychophysiology course at Palomar for a few semesters.  I immediately became hooked on the subject and wanted to learn as much as I could.  When I transferred back to CSUSM I was invited to work in Dr. Russell Jackson’s evolutionary psychology research lab focusing on perceptual adaptation.  This gave me my first taste of the research process which I immensely enjoyed. I quickly volunteered in Dr. Kimberly D’Anna-Hernandez’s because it dealt with the physiology and neuroanatomy that grabbed me early and combined it with excitement of research.  I graduated with my BA in psychology from CSUSM in the spring of 2012.  I continued work in Dr. D’Anna-Hernandez’s lab over the summer and started the Masters Program in Experimental Psychology in the fall.  My thesis project will involve the effects of pup exposure on motivation in regards to maternal behavior in mice and if the neuropeptide hypocretin can alter these behaviors.  In the future, I want to look at different types of motivated behavior and the coinciding changes occurring in the brain.

Bobby Mercado




Haley Norris

Major: Psychology

Class: Undergraduate Senior

Goals: Neuroscience research dealing with autism

Lura Jaques




Natalie Grenier

Major: Psychology

Class: Post Undergraduate Volunteer


Robert Altamirano

Major: Psychology

Class: Undergraduate Junior

Goals: PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience and climb Mount Everest blindfolded

Yesenia Cabrera




Zak Pronenko

Major: Psychology with emphasis on Neuroscience

Class: Post Undergraduate Volunteer

Goals: PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience

MOMS Maternal Behavior Lab

Adriana Maldonado

Class: Graduate Student

Currently I am working in Dr. D’Anna-Hernandez’s laboratory. After I graduate from CSU San Marcos, I am planning to apply to a PhD program in either Health or Social Psychology.

Esmeralda Garcia

Class: Graduate Student

Guadalupe Chim

Major: Human Development: Health Services

Class: Senior

Goals: Masters in Social Work

Maria Cole

Major: Psychology

Class: Undergraduate

Goals: Obtain my PhD and teach at a University as well as conduct research. Of particular interest to me are people in the Mexican and Mexican American community who traditionally do not seek help when struggling with mental health issues.

Maternal Behavior Neuroendocrinology Lab

Arthur Castaneda (AJ): Graduated from CSUSM and is now attending a PhD program at Arizona State University.

Carlos Gonzalez: Graduated from CSUSM and is now attending a PhD program at Stanford

Erin Snider

Heather Cody

MOMS Maternal Behavior Lab

Ana-Mercedes Flores

I became interested in doing research with Dr. Hernandez because I grew up in a border town and acculturation has always been a part of my life.  I had no idea how much research had been done and was left to do on acculturation of Latinos in the United States.  The mental health aspect of Dr. Hernandez's work was of particular interest to me.  I was fascinated by the large scale of the project, and all of the potential information it could provide.  Culturally competent interventions are of interest to me as I hope to practice as a neuropsychologist in an underprivileged area serving primarily Latinos.  My current thesis project is on the effects of rumination as a moderating variable on the relationship between negative mood and specificity of autobiographical memories.  I hope to do future research on cognitive rehabilitation and mood as well as help develop culturally competent interventions and social support for friends and families of individuals with cognitive deficits.

Marcela Martinez