Dr. Ella Nikulina, PhD head shot

Contact Info

AZ Biomedical Collaborative 1
Room Number
Associate Professor
College of Medicine Phx Basic Medical Sciences


  • PhD: Moscow State University, 1980.


  • Wang J, Bastle RM, Bass CE, Hammer RP Jr, Neisewander JL, Nikulina EM. Overexpression of BDNF expression in the ventral tegmental area enhances binge cocaine self-administration in rats exposed to repeated social defeat. Neuropharmacology, 2016; 109:121-130. PMID: 27154426.
  • Johnston CE, Herschel DJ, Lasek AW, Hammer RP Jr, Nikulina EM. Knockdown of ventral tegmental area mu-opioid receptors in rats prevents effects of social defeat stress: implications for amphetamine cross-sensitization, social avoidance, weight regulation and expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Neuropharmacology, 2015; 89: 325-34. PMID: 4293250
  • Nikulina EM, Johnston CE, Wang J, Hammer RP Jr. Neurotrophins in the ventral tegmental area: Role in social stress, mood disorders and drug abuse. Neuroscience. 2014; 282:122-38. Review. PMID: 24875178
  • Wang J, Bina RW, Wingard JC, Terwilliger EF, Hammer RP Jr, Nikulina EM. Knockdown of tropomyosin-related kinase B receptor expression in the nucleus accumbens shell prevents intermittent social defeat stress-induced cross-sensitization to amphetamine in rats. European Journal of Neuroscience, 2014; 39(6): 1009-17. PMID: 24354924
  • Wang J, Fanous S, Terwilliger EF, Bass CE, Hammer RP Jr, Nikulina EM. BDNF over-expression in the ventral tegmental area prolongs single social defeat stress-induced cross-sensitization to amphetamine and increases ∆FosB expression in mesocorticolimbic regions of rats. Neuropsychopharmacology, 2013; 38(11): 2286-96. PMID: 3773680.

For a complete listing of Dr. Nikulina's publications, search PubMed.

Research Interests

Social stress, neurotrophin, cross-sensitization

Research Summary

My research is to study the mechanisms of social stress-induced prolonged sensitivity to psychostimulants. Social defeat stress in rats is a relevant model to investigate the neurochemical mechanisms related to humans. We have identified transient expression of functional mu-opioid receptors in the ventral tegmental area that increases the induction of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which triggers the transition to long-lasting drug cross-sensitization. Now, I plan to identify the mechanisms involved in intracellular signaling in the neurons of the ventral tegmental area after social stress exposures.