Primary Faculty

Maureen Cox, PhD

Maureen Cox, PhD

Assistant Professor


Ph.D. - University of Alahama at Birmingham, Microbiology

Post-doctoral Fellowship:

Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Research Interests:

The intersection of the immune and nervous systems during infection and tumorigenesis.

Contact Information:

Lab: BMSB 1041

Office: BMSB 1039A


Phone: 405-271-2133 ext:46655

Research Interests:

Little is known about how the immune and nervous systems interact with one another, however the extensive overlap in signaling molecules and receptors, as well as the anatomical localization of neurons in secondary lymphoid organs suggests extensive cross-talk between these two disseminated organ systems.


Immune cells express receptors for numerous neurotransmitters, and immune cells can produce several neurotransmitters themselves, including acetylcholine, which helps these cells to control viral infection. Likewise, neurons express receptors for inflammatory cytokines produced by immune cells, and sensory neurons also express several toll-like receptors (TLRs), allowing the nervous system to directly sense the presence of pathogens. Furthermore, nerve fibers are present in the secondary lymphoid organs where immune responses are generated. In the context of an infection this may be highly significant, as it takes approximately 24 hours for an immune cell to migrate from a site of infection to the draining lymph node. In contrast, the nervous system would be able to communicate from the site of infection to the draining lymph node in real time. We are using a variety of genetic and pharmaceutical models to evaluate the contribution of nervous system signaling to the ability of immune cells to combat an infection.


In the tumor setting, it is known that nervous system projections grow into tumors, a process called axonogenesis. Work in recent years has demonstrated that these nervous system projections can help tumors to grow and metastasize. Our group is interested in how the immune system may contribute to axonogenesis in tumors, as well as what impact these neuronal fibers have on the immune response to the tumor. Using a breast cancer model, we are investigating what types of nerves grow into tumors and whether these nerves or their secreted products can be targeted to bolster anti-tumor immunity.

Current Lab Personnel:

Jessica Reel, MSc - PhD Student

Jumana Abbadi, MD - PhD Student


Employment Opportunities:

The Cox Lab is currently hiring!

  • Graduate students admitted to the OUHSC GPiBS program may contact Dr. Cox about setting up a 6 week rotation.

Selected Publications:

The sympathetic nervous system is necessary for development of CD4+ T cell memory following Staphylococcus aureus infection. 

Reel JM, Abbadi J, Bueno JA, Cizio K, Pippin R, Doyle DA, Mortan L, Bose JL, Cox MA. 

Journal of Infectious Diseases, May 11 2023. PMID: 37163747


Choline acetyltransferase-expressing T cells are required to control chronic viral infection.

Cox MA, Duncan GS, Lin GHY, Steinberg BE, Yu LX, Brenner D, Buckler LN, Elia AJ, Wakeham AC, Nieman B, Dominguez-Brauer C, Elford AR, Gill KT, Kubli SP, Haight J, Berger T, Ohashi PS, Tracey KJ, Olofsson PS, Mak TW.

Science. 2019 Feb 8;363(6427):639-644. doi: 10.1126/science.aau9072.

PMID: 30733420


Beyond neurotransmission: acetylcholine in immunity and inflammation.

Cox MA, Bassi C, Saunders ME, Nechanitzky R, Morgado-Palacin I, Zheng C, Mak TW.

J Intern Med. 2019 Nov 11. doi: 10.1111/joim.13006. [Epub ahead of print] Review. PMID: 31710126


Check point inhibitors as therapies for infectious diseases.

Cox MA, Nechanitzky R, Mak TW.

Curr Opin Immunol. 2017 Oct;48:61-67. doi: 10.1016/j.coi.2017.07.016. Epub 2017 Aug 31. Review.  PMID: 28865357


Blood pressure regulation by CD4+ lymphocytes expressing choline acetyltransferase.

Olofsson PS, Steinberg BE, Sobbi R, Cox MA, Ahmed MN, Oswald M, Szekeres F, Hanes WM, Introini A, Liu SF, Holodick NE, Rothstein TL, Lövdahl C, Chavan SS, Yang H, Pavlov VA, Broliden K, Andersson U, Diamond B, Miller EJ, Arner A, Gregersen PK, Backx PH, Mak TW, Tracey KJ.

Nat Biotechnol. 2016 Oct;34(10):1066-1071. doi: 10.1038/nbt.3663. Epub 2016 Sep 12. PMID: 27617738