For a better experience, click the Compatibility Mode icon above to turn off Compatibility Mode, which is only for viewing older websites.

Rodrigo España

Rodrigo España, PhD


Department: Neurobiology & Anatomy


  • PhD - University of Wisconsin

Awards & Honors

  • Mid-career Basic Science Investigator Award, Drexel University College of Medicine, 2023

Postgraduate Training / Additional Certifications

  • Postdoctoral training – Harvard University
  • Postdoctoral training – Wake Forest University Health Sciences

Rodrigo España, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy at Drexel University College of Medicine.

Research Overview

Research Interests: Neural basis of motivated behavior, hypocretin/orexin, dopamine, norepinephrine, behavioral pharmacology, sleep/arousal, substance abuse, fast scan cyclic voltammetry, fiber photometry, multi-unit electrophysiology, optogenetics, DREADDs

Research Staff:
Shanna Samels, Graduate Student
Sophie Cohen, Graduate Student
Ariana Azumatan, Research Assistant

Sandhya Kortagere, PhD, Drexel University
Ole V. Mortensen, PhD, Drexel University
Kacy Cullen, PhD, University of Pennsylvania
Hager Biosciences
Wei Du, MD, Drexel University
Jordan Yorgason, PhD, Brigham Young University
Jessica Barson, PhD, Drexel University
Caroline E. Bass, PhD, University at Buffalo
Stewart Clark, PhD, University at Buffalo
Maria E. Andres, PhD, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Ramón Sotomayor-Zárate, PhD, Universidad de Valparaíso
Peter Gaskill, PhD, Drexel University
Ramesh Raghupathi, PhD, Drexel University
Shaoping Hou, PhD, Drexel University
Peter Baas, PhD, Drexel University

Research Interests

Neural basis of motivated behavior, hypocretin/orexin, dopamine, norepinephrine, behavioral pharmacology, sleep/arousal, substance abuse, fast scan cyclic voltammetry, fiber photometry, multi-unit electrophysiology, optogenetics, DREADDs


Dr. España's doctoral thesis at the University of Wisconsin focused on the behavioral and physiological functions of the hypocretins, particularly as they relate to arousal-related processes including sleep/wake behavior and stress. His postdoctoral research at the Harvard Institutes of Medicine focused on elucidating the afferent innervation of the hypocretin neurons with an emphasis on aminergic inputs. In this work, Dr. España showed that the hypocretin neurons receive input from regions that govern motivation, homeostatic drive, behavioral state and autonomic tone.

Dr. España later joined Wake Forest School of Medicine where he used behavioral and neurochemical approaches to demonstrate that the hypocretins regulate the reinforcing effects of cocaine via actions on the mesolimbic dopamine system. His current research at Drexel focuses on hypocretin, dopamine, and norepinephrine regulation of arousal-related processes including sleep/wake function, stress and drug reinforcement.

España's laboratory uses a multidisciplinary approach to investigate the involvement of hypocretins in reward and addiction processes. Techniques include:

  • Electrophysiological recordings of sleep/wake behavior
  • Fast scan cyclic voltammetry
  • Circuit- and cell type-specific manipulations
  • Fiber photometry
  • Optogenetics
  • Self-administration of drugs of abuse
  • Single and multi-unit recordings in behaving animals

Selected Grants Funded

1R01DA05619 - Sleep Disturbances During Cocaine Abstinence, Dopamine Adaptations and Motivation for Cocaine. This project examines to what extent normalizing sleep disruptions during cocaine abstinence rescues aberrant motivation for cocaine.

2R01DA03190 - Hypocretin/Orexin Regulation of Dopamine and Cocaine Reinforcement. This project investigates how hypocretin/orexin receptor blockade influences dopamine transmission and cocaine seeking.

R21DA057054 - Selective real-time activation of ERK1/2 signaling in dopamine neurons. Collaboration with Ole Mortensen. This project investigates to what extent disruption of ERK1/2 influences dopamine transmission and dopamine transporter expression.

UF1DA054817 - Preclinical Development of Novel Dual OXR/KOR Antagonists for Treatment of Substance Use Disorder. Collaboration with Hager Biosciences. This project will develop novel orexin kappa opioid receptor antagonists and test their effects of reducing intake, motivation, and seeking of cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl.

Commonwealth of PA CURE - Real-time ex vivo modulation of ERK1/2 signaling in dopamine neurotransmission. Collaboration with Wei Du. This project will use genetic tools to establish role of ERK1/2 in regulating dopamine proteins and signaling.


Commonwealth of PA CURE - Involvement of Hypocretin/Orexin in Opioid Withdrawal and Relapse. This project examines if treatment with the FDA approved dual hypocretin receptor 1 and receptor 2 antagonist Suvorexant (Belsomra®) during oxycodone abstinence reduces relapse to opioid use.

R21DA043787 - Pre-existing individual differences in dopamine uptake dynamics govern the motivation for cocaine. These studies examined the contribution of inherent, individual differences in dopamine neurotransmission to the subsequent risk and intensity of cocaine-associated behavior.

R01DA03190 - Hypocretin/Orexin Regulation of Dopamine and Cocaine Reinforcement. These studies used a combination of voltammetry, drug reinforcement, and virus-mediated gene manipulation techniques to examine the extent to which hypocretin signaling participates in the regulation of motivated behavior.

K01DA025279 - Hypocretin/Orexin Modulation of Reward and Addiction Processes. These studies utilize self-administration and microdialysis techniques in behaving rats, and voltammetry in anesthetized rats to examine whether the hypocretin system influences cocaine-self administration and whether these actions involved changes in the dopamine system.

NARSAD Award - Hypocretin regulation of dopamine neurotransmission. This study will use hypocretin knockout mice to examine the extent to which the hypocretin system is necessary for normal dopamine function under normal conditions and in response to stimulant drugs of abuse.


Selected Publications

“Inactivation of ERK1/2 Signaling in Dopaminergic Neurons by Map Kinase Phosphatase MKP3 Regulates Dopamine Signaling and Motivation for Cocaine”
Bernstein DL, Lewandowski SI, Besada C, Place D, España RA, Mortensen OV
J Neurosci. Jan 31;44 (5): e0727232023. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0727-23.2023 (2024)

“Hypocretin / Orexin Receptor 1 Knockdown in GABA or Dopamine Neurons in the Ventral Tegmental Area Differentially Impact Mesolimbic Dopamine and Motivation for Cocaine”
Black EM, Samels SB, Xu W, Barson JR, Bass CE, Kortagere S, España RA
Addict Neurosci. Sep;7:100104. doi: 10.1016/j.addicn.2023.100104 (2023)

“Axonal Tract Reconstruction Using a Tissue Engineered Nigrostriatal Pathway in a Rat Model of Parkinson’s Disease”
Struzyna LA, Browne KD, Burrell JC, Gordian-Velez WJ, Wofford KL, Kaplan HM, Murthy S, Chen HI, Duda JE, España RA, Cullen DK
Int. J. Mol. Sci. Nov 12;23(22):13985. doi: 10.3390/ijms232213985 (2022)

“Intermittent access to oxycodone decreases dopamine uptake in the nucleus accumbens core during abstinence”
Samson KR, Xu W, Kortagere S, España RA
Addict Biol. Nov;27(6):e13241. doi: 10.1111/adb.13241 (2022)

“Incubation of cocaine craving coincides with changes in dopamine terminal neurotransmission”
Alonso IP, O’Connor BM, Bryant KG, Mandalaywala RK, España RA
Addict Neurosci. Sep;3 doi: 10.1016/j.addicn.2022.100029 (2022)

“Chemogenetic Signaling in Space and Time: Considerations for Designing Neuroscience Experiments Using DREADDs”
Clark PJ, Brodnik ZD, España RA
Neuroscientist. Nov 19:10738584221134587. doi: 10.1177/10738584221134587. Online ahead of print (2022)

“Effectiveness and Relationship between Biased and Unbiased Measures of Dopamine Release and Clearance”
Everett AC, Graul BE, Ronström JW, Robinson JK, Watts DB, España RA, Siciliano CA, Yorgason JT
ACS Chem Neurosci.13(10):1534-1548. doi: 0.1021/acschemneuro.2c00033 (2022)

“Individual differences in dopamine uptake in the dorsomedial striatum prior to cocaine exposure predict motivation for cocaine in male rats”
Shaw JK, Pamela Alonso I, Lewandowski SI, Scott MO, O'Connor BM, Aggarwal S, De Biasi M, Mortensen OV, España RA
Neuropsychopharmacology, 46, 1757–1767 (2021)

“Neurochemistry of Sleep”
Alonso, IP, España RA
In: The encyclopedia of sleep. (C. A. Kushida, Ed.). San Diego, Elsevier, 485–489 (2021)

“Dopamine transporter function fluctuates across sleep/wake state: potential impact for addiction”
Alonso IP, Pino JA, Kortagere S, Torres GE, España RA
Neuropsychopharmacology, 46, 699–708 (2021)

“Chemogenetic Manipulation of Dopamine Neurons Dictates Cocaine Potency at Distal Dopamine Transporters”
Brodnik ZD, Xu W, Batra A, Lewandowski SI, Ruiz CM, Mortensen OV, Kortagere S, Mahler SV, España RA
J Neurosci. Nov 4;40(45):8767-8779 (2020)

Contact Information

Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy
2900 W. Queen Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19129
Phone: 215.991.8274
Fax: 215.843.9082