Center on Sex-Specific Effects of Stress on Cocaine Addiction to be Established at Yale With $5.8 Million Grant

Researchers in the Department of Psychiatry and affiliated with Women’s Health Research at Yale will examine sex-specific factors in the association between stress and cocaine addiction with help from a new five-year, $5.8 million grant.

The grant is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Research on Women’s Health. It will help establish a specialized center of research (SCOR) to study how women differ from men in response to stress and cocaine addiction.

Rajita Sinha, associate professor of psychiatry and director of addiction services at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, is the principal investigator and director of the SCOR. Carolyn Mazure, professor of psychiatry and director of Women’s Health Research at Yale, and Bruce Rounsaville, M.D., professor of psychiatry, are co-directors of the SCOR.

Cocaine addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder with devastating psychosocial, health and societal consequences. Although women are more likely to abuse nicotine and prescribed medications, a growing number of the illicit drug-using population, an estimated 4.7 million, are women and an ever-growing subgroup of those abusing drugs like cocaine are women. Such data underscore the need for studying sex-specific factors in cocaine dependence.

Substantial clinical data also exist to show a strong correlation between stress and drug abuse. Recent evidence suggests a role of stress in cocaine reinforcement, cocaine craving and in relapse. Stress has also been identified as one of the key factors in increasing the vulnerability to develop cocaine dependence in women. Women report stress and negative mood as playing a pivotal role in the continued drug use and relapse cycle. While there have been attempts to understand the mechanisms underlying the association between stress and cocaine addiction, systematic research on sex-specific factors that contribute to this association has been rare.

Using interdisciplinary approaches, the work of the SCOR will include examination of the effects of early life stress, sex hormones and stress hormones on cocaine reinforcement and the risk of developing cocaine dependence; as well as the contribution of sex-based factors in the association between stress and cocaine relapse. A better understanding of these sex-specific mechanisms will contribute to the development of new treatments and prevention strategies.

Other key investigators associated with the SCOR at Yale include Jane Taylor, associate professor of psychiatry; Marina Picciotto, associate professor of psychiatry, pharmacology and neurobiology; and Thomas Kosten, M.D., professor of psychiatry. Investigators interested in participating in the SCOR may send e-mail to rajita.sinha@ for more information.

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