In addition to her role at Biology of Sex Differences, Jill Becker is a Research Professor at the Michigan Neuroscience Institute, Patricia Y. Gurin Collegiate Professor of Psychology and Chair of Biopsychology in the Department of Psychology, Professor of Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry, Senior Scholar in the Neuroscience Program, and in the Reproductive Sciences Program.
Jill Becker, PhD, has been studying sex differences in and sexual differentiation of the neural systems mediating drug abuse and motivation for over thirty years. Dr. Becker’s 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. Her 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, Dr. Becker has been studying the neural mechanisms mediating sex differences in preference for cocaine and cocaine-taking behavior in the laboratory rat. Her lab is 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 they seek to tie the behavioral measures to underlying neurobiological mechanisms. The findings from Dr. Becker’s basic research parallel well what is reported in the clinical literature, for example, women accelerate drug taking more rapidly than do men. Her laboratory is currently funded by grants from the NIH and NSF.