Julia Chester

Ph.D. Graduate (1999)

JuliaChester_Apr09_scaledUndergraduate Degree

B.A. (Psychology, 1993)

Training at OHSU


M.S. (1996)

Corticosterone effects on the acquisition and expression of ethanol-induced conditioned place preference in mice (Mentor: C. L. Cunningham, Ph.D.)

Ph.D. (1999)

Effects of GABAergic compounds on ethanol-induced conditioned place preference and taste aversion in mice (Mentor: C. L. Cunningham, Ph.D.)

Current position

Associate Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University 



Current Interests

The main emphasis of my research program is to study the genetic, environmental, and neurobiological mechanisms that may promote or protect against the development of major mental diseases such as addiction, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia.  A primary area of research is focused on examining the genetic and neurochemical mechanisms that regulate behavioral and motivational effects of alcohol.  I have a strong interest in the role of stress and stress hormones in influencing alcohol-seeking behaviors and other behaviors that model abnormal psychological processes and psychiatric disease states in humans.


I applied to OHSU and the Behavioral Neuroscience department because of my interest in biological psychology. The department offered a diverse and interesting curriculum and I knew I would receive a well-rounded education in basic science research. During my first-year research rotations, I was involved in projects that focused on the behavioral and physiological effects of alcohol.  It was during that time that my interest in the field of alcohol research was first sparked and it continues to flourish today.  The training I received as a graduate student at OHSU has been invaluable to me as a scientist.

In the laboratory of my mentor, Dr. Christopher L. Cunningham, I became interested in the neurochemical basis of ethanol's motivational effects in mice. My Master's thesis project examined a role for the stress hormone, corticosterone, in modulating ethanol-induced conditioned place preference. For my doctoral dissertation, I studied the effects of GABA-A and GABA-B receptor compounds on ethanol-induced conditioned place preference and conditioned taste aversion. I wrote a predoctoral NRSA (National Research Service Award) to support my dissertation project, which was an excellent learning experience. I also participated in several collaborative projects that examined the effects of ethanol and other drugs of abuse in genetic mouse models created in the Behavioral Neuroscience department and the neighboring Vollum Institute. The collaborative nature of the department provides students the opportunity to learn different techniques (from behavioral pharmacology to molecular biology) in other laboratories. My involvement in other projects, in addition to my thesis studies, significantly strengthened my scientific training. 

The Behavioral Neuroscience department has an excellent reputation for training graduate students. Students are encouraged to pursue their interests in a supportive learning environment that fosters intellectual growth. In addition to the rigorous coursework, students learn many skills to be successful scientists such as how to give seminars, write grant proposals and papers, and present data at scientific meetings. Students are trained to plan and execute research projects from start to finish, where the emphasis is on critical thinking rather than on the end product (although you usually achieve both). The faculty members are successful, productive, and friendly (great role models for the students) and are truly committed to both the short-term and long-term success of each student. The Behavioral Neuroscience department is one of the top graduate training programs in the country, regardless of your final career destination. 

Recent Publications

Barrenha GD, Chester JA (2012) Effects of cross-fostering on alcohol preference and correlated responses to selection in high- and low-alcohol preferring mice. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 36(12), 2065-73. 

Chester JA, Kirchhoff AM, Barrenha GD (2012) Relation between corticosterone and fear-related behavior in mice selectively bred for high or low alcohol preference. Addiction Biology, Epub 2013 Jan 21.

Barrenha, G.D., Coon, L.E., Chester, J.A. (2011) Effects of alcohol on the acquisition and expression of fear potentiated startle in mouse lines selectively bred for high and low alcohol preference. Psychopharmacology, 218(1), 191-201. Epub 2011 Apr 13. PMC3160503

Powers, M.S., Barrenha, G.D., Mlinac, N.S., Barker, E.L., Chester, J.A. (2010) Effects of the novel endocannabinoid uptake inhibitor, LY2183240, on fear-potentiated startle and alcohol-seeking behavior in mice selectively bred for high alcohol preference. Psychopharmacology, 212(4), 571-83. Epub 2010 Sep 14. PMC2982902

Chester, J.A., Coon, L.E. (2010) Pentylenetetrazol produces a conditioned place aversion to alcohol withdrawal in mice. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, 95(2), 258-65. Epub 2010 Feb 9. PMC2583362

Ehlers, C.L., Chester, J.A. (2009).  Alcoholism. In: Squire, L.R. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, vol. 1, pp. 231-236. Oxford: Academic Press.

Chester, J.A., Barrenha, G.D., Hughes, M.L., Keuneke, K.J. (2008). Age- and sex-dependent effects of footshock stress on subsequent alcohol drinking and acoustic startle behavior in mice selectively bred for high alcohol preference. Alcoholism:  Clinical and Experimental Research, 32(10), 1782-1794. Epub 2008 Jul 23. 

Chester, J.A., Watts, V.J. (2007).  Adenylyl cyclase 5 - A new clue in the search for the "Fountain of Youth"?  Science STKE, 413, pe64. 

Chester, J.A., Barrenha, G.D. (2007).  Acoustic startle at baseline and during acute alcohol withdrawal in replicate mouse lines selectively bred for high or low alcohol preference.  Alcoholism:  Clinical and Experimental Research, 31(10), 1633-1644. Epub 2007 Sept 17. 

Barrenha, G.D., Chester, J.A. (2007).  Genetic correlation between innate alcohol preference and fear-potentiated startle in selected mouse lines.  Alcoholism:  Clinical and Experimental Research, 31(7), 1081-1088. Epub 2007 Apr 19.


Date last updated: June 6, 2013