Skip Navigation

Danfeng Cai, Ph.D.

Danfeng Cai, Ph.D.

Headshot of Danfeng Cai
  • Joint Appointment in Oncology

Research Interests

Transcription Regulation; Chromatin Organization; Phase Separation; YAP/TAZ Signaling more


Dr. Danfeng Cai is interested in how physical and chemical signals dictate cellular functions. She obtained her B.S. from Peking University, and later her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine under the mentorship of Dr. Denise Montell, where she used live-cell imaging to study how mechanical force regulates directional migration of cell clusters [1, 2]. Her Ph.D. work was awarded the Bae Gyo Jung Award by Johns Hopkins University. In 2014, she became a Damon Runyon cancer research fellow with Dr. Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz at National Institutes of Health. She later moved to Howard Hughes Medical Institute -Janelia Research Campus to study how chromatin organization and transcription can be influenced by biomoleuclar condensates, jointly mentored by Drs. Zhe Liu and Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz. Dr. Cai will establish her lab at BMB Department of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and will use advanced imaging techniques to study how cells remodel their regulatory DNA landscape to turn on transcription [3]. more


  • Joint Appointment in Oncology

Departments / Divisions

  • Oncology - Cancer Invasion and Metastasis



  • Ph.D.; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Maryland) (2014)
  • B.S.; Peking University (China) (2009)

Research & Publications

Research Summary

The Cai lab will focus 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 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.


Lab Website: Cai Lab

Selected Publications

Cai, D. et al. Mechanical feedback through E-cadherin promotes direction sensing during collective cell migration. Cell 157, 1146-1159, doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.03.045 (2014).

Cai, D. et al. Modeling and analysis of collective cell migration in an in vivo three-dimensional environment. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 113, E2134-2141, doi:10.1073/pnas.1522656113 (2016)

Cai, D. et al. Phase separation of YAP reorganizes genome topology for long-term YAP target gene expression. Nature Cell Biology 21, 1578-1589, doi:10.1038/s41556-019-0433-z (2019)

Academic Affiliations & Courses

Graduate Program Affiliation

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Activities & Honors


  • The Lorraine Flaherty Award, International Mammalian Genome Society
  • Forbeck Scholar Award, William Forbeck Research Foundation
  • Fellows Award for Research Excellence, National Institutes of Health
  • Damon Runyon Cancer Research Fellowship, Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation
  • Bae Gyo Jung Award, Johns Hopkins University
Is this you? Edit Profile
back to top button