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Kirsty Erickson

The University of South Dakota

Erin Calipari and Cody Siciliano labs

For many psychiatric disorders, such as substance use disorder, sex is a critical biological variable and women represent a particularly vulnerable population. For cocaine use disorder women transition to addiction faster, take more cocaine, experience more adverse consequences, and have more difficulty remaining abstinent. Previous research has exposed significant sex differences in the mesolimbic dopamine system, a neural circuit critical in reward learning and motivation, and identified the gonadal hormone 17b-estradiol (E2) as a significant contributor to this vulnerability. To understand cocaine use disorder in females we need to understand the fundamental mechanisms by which drug responses are mediated and how this influences the systems these drugs act on – I focus on defining the mechanisms by which E2 modulates presynaptic dopamine dynamics and cocaine effects in reward-related brain regions.