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Assistant Professor

Danfeng Cai, PhD '14, combines advanced microscopy, genomics, and proteomics to tease out the functions of protein condensates in cells, with a focus on cancer.

Contact Info

Research Interests

Transcription; phase separation; cancer; YAP/TAZ

Experiences & Accomplishments
Johns Hopkins University
Peking University

The Cai lab focuses on understanding how transcription process is dynamically regulated in normal and cancer cells. We have discovered that Yes-associated protein (YAP), a transcription coactivator and important oncoprotein, forms liquid-like condensates in the nucleus to activate transcription (Cai et al, Nature Cell Biology 2019). Our result is consistent with a new view of how transcription machinery is organized in the nucleus, as a dynamic compartment formed by weak interactions, capable of providing force to remodel chromatin structure.

We will continue to investigate the pathways regulating YAP condensate formation, and how these condensates influence local chromatin structure and transcriptional activity. We will use a cutting-edge super resolution technique called 3D ATAC-PALM (Xie and Dong et al, Nature Methods, 2020) to visualize accessible chromatin domain changes during YAP condensate formation, and live-cell imaging to observe YAP downstream transcription changes. Our study will have implications for future cancer therapies, as YAP is over-expressed in many cancers, and YAP condensates in cancer cells are linked with malignancy. Therefore, the thorough characterization of these condensates by our laboratory will give valuable information about how these condensates are regulated in normal and pathological states, and how they could be targeted in hope of treating cancer.

Honors & Awards

The Lorraine Flaherty Award, International Mammalian Genome Society

Forbeck Scholar Award, William Forbeck Research Foundation

Fellows Award for Research Excellence, National Institute of Health

Damon Runyon-Dale F. Frey Award for Breakthrough Scientists, Finalist

Damon Runyon Cancer Research Fellowship

Bae Gyo Jung Award, Johns Hopkins University

Select Publications

Selected publications from the last 10 years.

  • Biomolecular Condensates and Their Links to Cancer Progression. Cai, D., Liu, Z. and Lippincott-Schwartz, J. Trends in Biochemical Sciences, 2021

  • Phase separation of YAP reorganizes genome topology for long-term YAP target gene expression. Cai, D., D. Feliciano, P. Dong, E. Flores, M. Gruebele, N. Porat-Shliom, S. Sukenik, Z. Liu and J. Lippincott-Schwartz Nature Cell Biology, 2019

  • Modeling and analysis of collective cell migration in an in vivo three-dimensional environment. Cai, D., Dai, W., Prasad, M., Luo, J., Gov, N.S., and Montell, D.J. PNAS, 2016

  • Mechanical feedback through E-cadherin promotes direction sensing during collective cell migration. Cai, D., Chen, S.C., Prasad, M., He, L., Wang, X., Choesmel-Cadamuro, V., Sawyer, J.K., Danuser, G., and Montell, D.J. Cell, 2014

  • Diverse and dynamic sources and sinks in gradient formation and directed migration. Cai, D., and Montell, D.J. Current Opinion in Cell Biology, 2014