Danfeng Cai, Ph.D.

Headshot of Danfeng Cai
  • Joint Appointment in Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry

Research Interests

Transcription; Genome Organization; Phase Separation; YAP/TAZ Signaling; Cancer ...read 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. 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 biomolecular condensates, jointly mentored by Drs. Zhe Liu and Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz.

Dr. Cai became an Assistant Professor at the BMB Department of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2021, with joint appointments in Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry and in Oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She uses advanced imaging techniques to study how biomolecular condensates function in homeostasis and in cancer.

...read more


  • Joint Appointment in Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry
  • Joint Appointment in Oncology

Departments / Divisions

  • Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry
  • 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 focuses on understanding how the transcription process is regulated in normal and cancer cells. We are intrigued by the discoveries in our lab that many transcription factors involved in cancers can form small, liquid-like condensates in the nucleus to activate transcription. Our results are consistent with an emerging and paradigm-shifting view in biology: many biochemical reactions inside the living cell are organized in liquid-like condensates formed by weak protein and nucleic acid interactions. This implies that the material states as well as the components of cellular assemblies matter for their functions. We develop and employ many cutting-edge imaging tools in the lab, such as super resolution microscopy, single particle tracking, and optogenetics. By studying these condensates, we hope to understand how transcription is differentially organized in normal and cancer cells, and how we can target these condensates for cancer therapies.


Lab Website: Cai Lab

Technology Expertise Keywords

Super resolution imaging, single molecule localization microscopy, live cell imaging, optogenetics

Selected Publications

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

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

Cai, D., Liu, Z. & Lippincott-Schwartz, J. Biomolecular Condensates and Their Links to Cancer Progression. Trends Biochem Sci 46, 535-549 (2021). https://doi.org:10.1016/j.tibs.2021.01.002

Magesh, S. & Cai, D. Roles of YAP/TAZ in ferroptosis. Trends Cell Biol 32, 729-732 (2022). https://doi.org:10.1016/j.tcb.2022.05.005

Academic Affiliations & Courses

Graduate Program Affiliation

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology PhD Program;

Cellular and Molecular Medicine

Courses and Syllabi

  • Genome Integrity (120.605.01)
  • Analysis of Macromolecules
  • Cell Structure and Dynamics (ME: 110.728)

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

Patient Ratings & Comments

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