Dr. Kimberly Hillsman Cox began her research career as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, where she worked with Dr. Emilie Rissman on a project examining the effects of a novel Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulator (SERM) on cognition in aging mice. This project was the spark that lit her passion for research on the brain and behavior, and the impetus behind her pursuit of a graduate degree in Neuroscience. Upon entering the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Texas, Austin, Dr. Cox joined the lab of Dr. David Crews, and began using reptilian model systems to investigate neuroendocrine mechanisms of behavior. For her master’s thesis, published in 2007, Dr. Cox compared the expression of vasotocin (AVT) containing neurons in two whiptail lizard species: C. uniparens, a parthenogenetic species, and C. inornatus, a closely related sexual species.
After a few years living abroad, Dr. Cox returned to the University of Virginia where she re-joined Dr. Rissman’s laboratory for completion of her PhD. Her dissertation, defended in July 2012, focused on the environmental, hormonal, and genetic regulation of sexual differentiation of the brain as pertains to juvenile social behaviors in mice, and led to 6 publications (and 2 additional manuscripts which are in preparation). While Dr. Cox still has a great interest in the brain and behavior, her research has shifted to focus on the development and wiring of the brain, leading her to conduct her postdoctoral research in the Reproductive Endocrine Unit.
Dr. Cox is currently working with Dr. William Crowley to fully characterize the functional effects of heterozygous Prokineticin Receptor 2 (PROKR2) missense mutations in isolated GnRH deficiency (IGD). This research will help clarify the role of PROKR2 variants in human disease and, importantly, give insight into the development of GnRH neurons and their migration into the hypothalamus. Because patients with PROKR2 mutations also display a wide variety of reproductive phenotypes, her second project is also investigating potential genetic modifiers of the PROKR2 system using whole-exome sequencing.