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Jessica Barson

Jessica Barson, PhD

Assistant Professor

Department: Neurobiology & Anatomy


  • PhD - Princeton University (2009)
  • Postdoctoral Training - The Rockefeller University

Dr. Barson is an assistant professor in the Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy at Drexel University College of Medicine.

Research Overview

Visit the Barson lab.

Lab Personnel:
Surya Pandey, Doctoral Student
Andrew Gargiulo, Doctoral Student
Genevieve Curtis, Doctoral Student
Andrea Fowora, Master's Student
Priyanka Shah, Undergraduate Volunteer
Justina Toma, Undergraduate Volunteer

Research Interests

Neural basis of ingestive behavior, alcoholism, neuropeptides


Image of Dr. Jessica Barson's research

The question of why certain individuals overconsume substances that, in excess, can be harmful to them is of major public health concern. Evidence shows that ingestive behavior is driven not only by homeostatic forces in the hypothalamus that act to maintain optimal energy levels, but also by non-homeostatic forces of the limbic system that promote reward-seeking. When recruited, these non-homeostatic forces can ultimately lead to obesity as well as drug addiction. Neuronal communication, both within and between the hypothalamus and limbic regions, is influenced by a class of small neurochemicals called neuropeptides, with certain neuropeptides found to promote ingestive behavior. The mechanisms through which these orexigenic neuropeptides act and interact within different brain areas remain to be fully delineated. The major goals of the Barson lab are, first, to gain insight into how excessive ingestive behavior is promoted by neuropeptides and their interaction across different brain regions and, second, to determine how the activity of these neuropeptide systems differs between individuals, possibly explaining their heterogeneity.

Current research in the Barson lab focuses on the paraventricular thalamus, which has received little attention in studies of ingestive behavior. With this brain region being a major node in the network between homeostatic and non-homeostatic brain regions, it is ideally positioned to monitor internal state and then to direct behavior. While it has often been treated as a homogenous structure, the paraventricular thalamus has subregions that are anatomically distinct. Our research has shown for the first time that pharmacologically-relevant alcohol drinking affects transcriptional activity in the paraventricular thalamus, in a subregion-specific manner. Specifically, alcohol stimulates transcription in the anterior rather than posterior subregion. This in part involves activation of specific receptors for neuropeptides that project to the paraventricular thalamus from the hypothalamus. In turn, these neuropeptides affect other neuropeptides in the paraventricular thalamus itself that can then promote alcohol drinking. Together, these results point to a novel positive-feedback mechanism involving connections between the homeostatic hypothalamus and the non-homeostatic thalamus that can lead to excessive ingestive behavior. Our hope is that these findings will help in the development of novel treatments for drug addiction.

Image of Dr. Jessica Barson's research

We utilize a wide variety of techniques in the lab:

Surgical: Stereotaxic brain surgery, microinjection of neuropeptide agonists and antagonists and DREADDs
Behavioral: Voluntary alcohol or sucrose drinking, operant alcohol or sucrose self-administration, activity chamber locomotor behavior, hole board exploration, place preference, elevated plus maze anxiety
Neuroanatomical: Histology, dissections of brain nuclei, tract tracing
Molecular: quantitative real-time PCR, in situ hybridization, ELISA, immunohistochemistry

Active Funding

R00AA021782 - Paraventricular thalamic nucleus: Role of orexin and opioids in ethanol intake. The goal of this grant is to examine the thalamic paraventricular nucleus for its role in the overconsumption of alcohol, with a focus on the role of neuropeptides.

In the Media


Selected Publications

"Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase-Activating Polypeptide-27 (PACAP-27) in the Thalamic Paraventricular Nucleus Is Stimulated by Ethanol Drinking"
Gupta A, Gargiulo AT, Curtis GR, Badve PS, Pandey S, Barson JR
Alcohol Clin Exp Res, 42(9):1650-60, 2018

"Orexin/hypocretin and dysregulated eating: Promotion of foraging behavior"
Barson JR
Brain Res [Epub ahead of print] (2018)

"Orexin/Hypocretin System: Role in Food and Drug Overconsumption"
Barson JR, Leibowitz SF
Int Rev Neurobiol, 136:199-237 (2017)

"Hypocretin receptor 1 knockdown in the ventral tegmental area attenuates mesolimbic dopamine signaling and reduces motivation for cocaine"
Bernstein DL, Badve PS, Barson JR, Bass CE, España RA
Addict Biol. [Epub ahead of print], 2017

"Neurotensin in the posterior thalamic paraventricular nucleus: inhibitor of pharmacologically relevant ethanol drinking"
Pandey S, Badve PS, Curtis GR, Leibowitz SF & Barson JR
Addict Biol. [Epub ahead of print], 2017

"Substance P in anterior thalamic paraventricular nucleus: Promotion of ethanol drinking in response to orexin from the hypothalamus"
Barson JR, Poon K, Ho HT, Sanzalone L & Leibowitz SF
Addict Biol, 22(1): 58-69, 2017

"Involvement of the CXCL12 System in the Stimulatory Effects of Prenatal Exposure to High-Fat Diet on Hypothalamic Orexigenic Peptides and Behavior in Offspring"
Poon K, Barson JR, Shi H, Chang GQ & Leibowitz SF
Front Behav Neurosci, 11:91, 2016

"Role of hypothalamic neuropeptide signaling in alcohol addiction"
Barson JR & Leibowitz SF
Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry, Epub ahead of print, 2015

"Anterior thalamic paraventricular nucleus is involved in intermittent access ethanol drinking: Role of orexin receptor 2"
Barson JR, Ho HT & Leibowitz SF
Addict Biol, 20(3), 469-81, 2015

"Hypothalamic peptides controlling alcohol intake: Differential effects on microstructure of drinking bouts"
Chen Y-W, Barson JR, Chen A, Hoebel BG & Leibowitz SF
Alcohol, 48(7), 657-664, 2014

"Galanin and ingestive behavior"
Barson JR, Morganstern I & Leibowitz SF
In Handbook of Biologically Active Peptides, 2nd Ed, SC Woods & AJ Kastin (eds), San Diego: Elsevier, Chapter 147, 2013

"Opioids in the perifornical lateral hypothalamus suppress ethanol drinking"
Chen Y-W, Barson JR, Chen A, Hoebel BG & Leibowitz SF
, 47(1), 31-38, 2013

"Complementary roles of orexin and melanin-concentrating hormone in feeding behavior"
Barson JR, Morganstern I & Leibowitz SF
Int J Endocrinol, 2013(983964), 1-10, 2013

"Glutamatergic input to the lateral hypothalamus stimulates ethanol intake: Role of orexin and melanin-concentrating hormone"
Chen Y-W, Barson JR, Chen A, Hoebel BG & Leibowitz SF
Alcohol Clin Exp Res, 37(1), 123-131, 2013

"Neurochemical heterogeneity of rats predicted by different measures to be high ethanol consumers"
Barson JR, Fagan SE, Chang G-Q & Leibowitz SF
Alcohol Clin Exp Res, 37(S1), E141-151, 2013

"Developmental changes in embryonic hypothalamic neurons during prenatal fat exposure"
Poon K, Barson JR, Fagan SE & Leibowitz SF
Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, 303(3), E432-441, 2012

"Effect of dietary fatty acid composition on food intake, triglycerides, and hypothalamic peptides"
Barson JR, Karatayev O, Gaysinskaya O, Chang G-Q & Leibowitz SF
Regul Pept, 173(1-3), 13-20, 2012

"Neurobiology of consummatory behavior: Mechanisms underlying overeating and drug use"
Barson JR, Morganstern I & Leibowitz SF
ILAR J, 53(1), 35-58, 2012

"Galanin and the orexin 2 receptor as possible regulators of enkephalin in the PVN: Relation to dietary fat"
Barson JR, Chang G-Q, Poon K, Morganstern I & Leibowitz SF
Neuroscience, 193, 10-20, 2011

"Similarities in hypothalamic and mesocorticolimbic circuits regulating the overconsumption of food and alcohol"
Barson JR, Morganstern I & Leibowitz SF
Physiol Behav, 104(1), 128-137, 2011

"Effect of chronic ethanol in the hypothalamus and extra-hypothalamic areas"
Chang G-Q, Barson JR, Karatayev O, Chang S-Y, Chen Y-W & Leibowitz SF
Alcohol Clin Exp Res, 34(5), 761-770, 2010

"Opioids in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus stimulate ethanol intake"
Barson JR, Carr AJ, Soun JE, Sobhani NC, Leibowitz SF & Hoebel BG
Alcohol Clin Exp Res, 34(2), 214-222, 2010

"Galanin and consummatory behavior: Special relationship with dietary fat, alcohol and circulating lipids"
Barson JR, Morganstern I & Leibowitz SF
In Galanin, T. Hökfelt (ed), Basel: Springer, Experientia Supplementum Vol 102, 87-111, 2010

"Opioids in the hypothalamus control dopamine and acetylcholine levels in the nucleus accumbens"
Rada PV, Barson JR, Leibowitz SF & Hoebel BG
Brain Res, 1312, 1-9, 2009

"Hypothalamic injection of non-opioid peptides increases gene expression of the opioid enkephalin in hypothalamic and mesolimbic nuclei: Possible mechanism underlying their behavioral effects"
Karatayev O, Barson JR, Chang G-Q & Leibowitz SF
Peptides, 30(12), 2423-2431, 2009

"Opioids in the nucleus accumbens stimulate ethanol intake"
Barson JR, Carr AJ, Soun JE, Sobhani NC, Leibowitz SF & Hoebel BG. Physiol Behav, 98(4), 453-459, 2009

"Positive relationship between dietary fat, ethanol intake, triglycerides, and hypothalamic peptides: Counteraction by lipid-lowering drugs"
Barson JR, Karatayev O, Chang G-Q, Johnson DF, Bocarsly ME, Hoebel BG & Leibowitz SF
Alcohol, 42(6), 433-441, 2009

Contact Information

Research Office

Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy
2900 W. Queen Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19129
Phone: 215.991.8401
Fax: 215.843.9082