Personal website link: mnicolekunkel.com
I am a bicultural, Mexican-American behavioral neuroscientist from Texas. I completed my BS in behavioral neuroscience at St. Edward’s University in 2017. During my undergraduate career, I helped conduct research focused on adolescent stimulant exposure and its short term and long term effects on female sexual behavior.
In 2018, I became a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholar. I entered doctoral candidacy at the University of Texas at Austin in October 2020 and received my Portfolio in Applied Statistical Modeling in May 2022. I care deeply about disseminating science outside of academia to key decision-makers and stakeholders. Using science as a tool, I hope to promote environmental reproductive justice.
My dissertation focuses on the intersection of reproductive health and mental health in the context of ubiquitous endocrine-disrupting chemicals. In the Gore lab, I have modeled human-relevant exposures to Aroclor 1221 during hormonally-sensitive periods in utero and shortly after birth with female rats. Although this endocrine-disruptor was banned decades ago, it persists in our environment and continues to impact humans and wildlife. My model also involves sociosexual experiences during adolescence. I aim to understand how other stressors may also interact with Aroclor 1221 exposure. I measure estrous cycling, anxiety-like and depressive-like behaviors, mate preference, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis functioning (dexamethasone suppression testing), and hormone receptor expression in the brain (immunohistochemistry).
As a Health Policy Research Scholar, I am trained in writing evidence-based policy memos and recommendations and in giving expert testimony for legislators. In 2021, I attended the Concordia Summit as an invited guest researcher, where I met with leaders in government and industry to discuss new and current approaches to address climate change and promoting health equity.
Photograph: (c) Flynn Larsen 2019. Photo Courtesy of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Reilly, M.P., Kunkel, M. N., Thompson, L. M., Zentay, A., Weeks, C. D., Crews, D., Cormack, L. K., and Gore, A. C. (2021). Effects of endocrine disruptors on hypothalamic oxytocin and vasopressin systems. Journal of experimental zoology. Part A, Ecological and integrative physiology, 10.1002/jez.2475. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1002/jez.2475
Hernandez Scudder, M. E., Kunkel, M. N., Gore, A.C. (2020). Exposure to prenatal PCBs shifts the timing of neurogenesis in the hypothalamus of developing rats. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology, 333, 550-560. doi: 10.1002/jez.2404.
Boyette-Davis, J. A., Rice, H. R., Shoubaki, R. I., Gonzalez, C. M., Kunkel, M. N., . . . Guarraci, F. A. (2018). A recreational dose of methylphenidate, but not methamphetamine, decreases anxiety-like behavior in female rats. Neuroscience Letters,682, 21-26. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2018.06.005
Guarraci, F. A., Gonzalez, C. M., Lucero, D., Womble, P. D., Abdel-Rahim, H., Devore, J., Kunkel, M.N., . . . Boyette-Davis, J. (2018). The effects of ketamine on sexual behavior, anxiety, and locomotion in female rats. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior,165, 36-44. doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2017.12.004