Millie Rincón-Cortés

Millie Rincón-Cortés

Assistant Professor

Research Interests: Normative and stress-induced plasticity of reward and mesolimbic dopamine function, emphasis on early development and the postpartum period

Tags: behavior depression electrophysiology neuroscience stress Neuroscience-Faculty

Professional Preparation

Postdoc (Grace Lab) - Dopamine neurophysiology
University of Pittsburgh - 2020
PhD - Neuroscience and Physiology
New York University Medical Center - 2015
BS - Biology
University of Puerto Rico- Mayaguez (RUM) - 2009

Research Areas

Animal models of psychiatric disorders
Social Behavior
Maternal mental illness


Postpartum scarcity-adversity disrupts maternal behavior and induces a hypodopaminergic state in the rat dam and adult female offspring 2022 - Journal Article
Bidirectional control of infant rat social behavior via dopaminergic innervation of the basolateral amygdala 2021 - Journal Article
Adaptations in reward-related behaviors and mesolimbic dopamine function during motherhood and the postpartum period. 2020 - Journal Article
Enhancing Executive Functions Through Social Interactions: Causal Evidence Using a Cross-Species Model. 2019 - Journal Article
Stress: Influence of sex, reproductive status and gender 2019 - Journal Article
Corticosterone administration targeting a hypo-reactive HPA axis rescues a socially-avoidant phenotype in scarcity-adversity reared rats. 2019 - Journal Article
Antidepressant effects of ketamine on depression-related phenotypes and dopamine dysfunction in rodent models of stress. 2019 - Journal Article
Postpartum changes in affect-related behavior and VTA dopamine neuron activity in rats. 2019 - Journal Article


Early Career Achievement Award - International Behavioral Neuroscience Society (IBNS) [2020]
Rafaelsen Young Investigator Award - International College of Neuropsychopharmacology (CINP) [2020]
Postdoctoral Fellow - Ford Foundation [2020]
NRSA F32 Postdoctoral Fellow - National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) [2016]
Dissertation Award - International Society for Developmental Psychobiology (ISDP) [2015]
Sackler Dissertation Prize - New York University School of Medicine [2015]
Graduate Research Fellow - National Science Foundation (NSF) [2011]


Assistant Professor
Department of Neuroscience, School of Behavioral Brain Sciences at UTD [2022–Present]


Normative and adversity-induced changes in reward-related and mesolimbic dopamine function
How does becoming a mother change reward-related brain function? How do these normative changes interact with postpartum adversity?
Dopaminergic mechanisms underlying intergenerational transmission of maternal behavior
How do early life experiences with a caregiver program later life maternal behavior?
Ontogeny of reward-related brain and behavioral responses: modulation by sex and stress
How does developmental stress exposure alter brain development and reward-related responses?


K01: Environmental modulation of maternal behavior and mesolimbic DA function
- NIMH [2022/05–2026/04]
In humans, postpartum stress exposure is associated with increased risk for mood disorders and compromised quality of mother-infant interactions (i.e. maternal care). For example, mothers that undergo postpartum adversity may lose interest in their babies and have difficult caring for their infant’s needs. However, the neural mechanisms by which adverse maternal environments contribute to aberrant maternal behavior remain poorly understood. One potential pathway is the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system, which originates in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and is critically involved in reward-related processes, including maternal behavior, and the pathophysiology of depression. Importantly, DA dysregulation has been observed in women with PPD and studies in rodent models relevant for the study of depression have shown a causal link between DA system dysregulation (i.e. decreased VTA DA neuron activity) and negative affect-related behaviors (i.e. anhedonia, passive coping). Thus, compromised activity of VTA DA neurons induced by postpartum adversity may interfere with reward-related processes necessary for maternal motivation and responsiveness. Yet, little is known about the regulation of DA system function in postpartum rodents at baseline and under conditions of adversity. The overall goal of this proposal is to determine the impact of an adverse postpartum environment, as modeled by providing the dam with limited bedding and nesting (LBN) materials from postpartum days 2-9, on maternal behaviors and mesolimbic DA function while testing a mechanistic role for the stress hormone corticosterone (CORT). This work will lay the necessary groundwork for future experiments aimed at conducting cell- type specific in vivo optical recordings of genetically identified VTA DA neurons during the expression of maternal behavior in adaptive (control) and maladaptive states (LBN) over time, while also enabling assessment of time- locked behavior/DA responses, and causally manipulating potential neural circuits driving LBN-induced alterations in VTA DA function.