I have been studying sex differences in and sexual differentiation of the neural systems mediating drug abuse and motivation for over thirty years. My early research laid the groundwork for these studies by demonstrating that there is a sex difference in dopamine release from the striatum, this sex difference is affected by neonatal and adolescent hormone manipulations and that estradiol modulates the release of dopamine in the striatum of female rats. My research has gone on to elucidate the mechanisms mediating the rapid and direct effect of estradiol on the striatum of females.

Experiments in the laboratory investigate the effects of psychomotor stimulants on behavior in rat and how ovarian hormones act in the brain to influence drug taking behaviors. More recently I have been studying the neural mechanisms mediating sex differences in preference for cocaine and cocaine-taking behavior in the laboratory rat. We are also investigating the mechanisms mediating the effect of estradiol to change a female rat’s motivation for food to motivation for a mate. Methods employed include in vivo microdialysis and fast scan cyclic voltammetry as well as drug self-administration and operant conditioning paradigms. In all experimental programs we seek to tie the behavioral measures to underlying neurobiological mechanisms. The findings from my basic research parallel well what is reported in the clinical literature, for example, women accelerate drug taking more rapidly than do men. My laboratory is currently funded by grants from the NIH and NSF.

- Dr. Jill B Becker

Representative Publications

Cummings, J. A, and Becker, J. B. Quantitative Assessment of Female Sexual Motivation in the Rat: Hormonal Control of Motivation. Journal Neuroscience Methods, (2012) 204(2):227-233.

Becker, J. N., Perry, A. N., and Westenbroek, C. Sex Differences in the Neural Mechanisms Mediating Addiction: A new synthesis and hypothesis. Biology of Sex Differences (2012) 3(1):14-49.

Perry, A. N., Westenbroek, C., and Becker, J. B., The Development of a Preference for Cocaine Over Food Identifies Individual Rats with Addiction-like Behaviors (2013) PlosOne 2013 Nov 18;8(11):e79465. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0079465.

Cummings, J.A., Jagannathan, K., Jackson, L., Becker, J.B., Sex differences in the effects of estradiol in the nucleus accumbens and striatum on the response to cocaine: neurochemistry and behavior, Drug and Alcohol Dependence 2014 Feb 1;135:22-8 PMID:24332790 (PMCID PMC3947194).

Perry, A. N., Westenbroek, C., Jagannathan, L and Becker, J. B., The roles of dopamine and a1-adrenergic receptors in cocaine preferences in female and male rats. Neuropsychopharmacology, 2015 (in press).

A full listing of my research publications can be found here.