Rajini Rao, Ph.D.

Headshot of Rajini Rao
  • Director, Graduate Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine
  • Professor of Physiology

Research Interests

Ion transporters


Dr. Rajini Rao is a professor of physiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Her area of research expertise is studying the roles of intracellular ion transport in health and disease. She serves as the director of the graduate program in cellular and molecular medicine and the director of the Center for Membrane Transport at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Dr. Rao received her undergraduate degree in chemistry and biology from Mount Carmel College in Bangalore, India. After receiving her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Rochester in 1988, she spent five years as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Carolyn Slayman at Yale University. She arrived at Johns Hopkins in 1993.

One of her lab's many accomplishments is the discovery of an oncogenic role for SPCA2 in breast cancer, opening a new chapter in the study of this isoform. Currently, Dr. Rao's lab researches the roles of intracellular cation transport in human health and disease using yeast as a model organism.

Her academic activities are divided equally between education, mentoring and research. As the director of the graduate program in cellular and molecular medicine, she oversees a multi-departmental training program that includes approximately 130 faculty mentors and 150 graduate students. She is a faculty mentor in other graduate programs at the School of Medicine (biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology; cellular and molecular physiology) where she teaches, direct courses and holds small group discussions. She has mentored more than 20 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in her lab, many of whom have won national awards and independent fellowships.

As part of her long-standing effort to improve the representation of minority groups at all levels of academia, Dr. Rao has participated in numerous diversity committees and panels. She served on the admissions committee for the summer internship program at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, which offers research experience to students of diverse background. She has also hosted at least one underrepresented minority student in her laboratory every year.

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  • Director, Graduate Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine
  • Director, Center for Membrane Transport
  • Professor of Physiology

Departments / Divisions

Centers & Institutes



  • Ph.D.; University of Rochester (New York) (1988)

Additional Training

  • Yale University, New Haven, CT, 1992, Genetics

Research & Publications

Research Summary

The Rao laboratory at Johns Hopkins studies ion transporters, including H+-ATPases, Ca2+-ATPases and Na+/H+ exchangers. Our research focus is on the discovery of new ion transporters and their physiological roles in human health and disease.We initially defined the Golgi/Secretory Pathway Ca2+, Mn2+-ATPases (SPCA) and proposed their assignment to a new family based on their unique biochemical and phylogenetic properties. Our discovery of an oncogenic role for SPCA2 in breast cancer, mediated by an unconventional mechanism of signaling to Ca2+ channels, opens a new chapter in the study of this isoform. We were the first to clone and recognize the endosomal Na+(K+)/H+ exchangers (eNHE) as a separate group from the well-known plasma membrane NHE. Currently, we combine use of yeast and neurobiological models to understand the role of eNHE in neurological disease, including autism, Alzheimer disease and glioblastoma. More recently, we identified a new family of metazoan cation/H+ antiporters that are distantly related to bacterial NhaA; our findings implicate a role for human NHA2 in sodium lithium countertransport activity linked to essential hypertension. We also investigate the cellular pathway of ion-mediated fungal (C. albicans) cell death and target this pathway, including the V-type H+-ATPase, for the development of antimycotic drugs. We are exploring the use of the anti-arrhythmic drug amiodarone in antifungal therapy, particularly of azole-resistant fungi.


Lab Website: Rao Laboratory

Selected Publications

Kondapalli, KC, Llongueras, JP, Capilla-Gonzalez, V, Hack, A, Smith, C, Guerrero-Cazares, H, Quinones-Hinojosa, A, and Rao, R. (2015) A leak pathway for luminal protons in endosomes drives oncogenic signaling in glioblastoma. Nature Communications 6 Article number: 6289 doi:10.1038/ncomms7289


Hack A, Schushan M, Landau M, Ben-Tal N, Rao R. "Functional evaluation of autism-associated mutations in NHE9." Nat Commun. 2013;4:2510. doi: 10.1038/ncomms3510.

Patenaude C, Zhang Y, Cormack B, Köhler J, Rao R. "Essential role for vacuolar acidification in Candida albicans virulence." J Biol Chem. 2013 Sep 6;288(36):26256-64. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M113.494815. Epub 2013 Jul 24.

Cross BM, Hack A, Reinhardt TA, Rao R. "SPCA2 regulates Orai1 trafficking and store independent Ca2+ entry in a model of lactation." PLoS One. 2013 Jun 28;8(6):e67348. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067348. Print 2013.

Shim JS, Rao R, Beebe K, Neckers L, Han I, Nahta R, Liu JO. "Selective inhibition of HER2-positive breast cancer cells by the HIV protease inhibitor nelfinavir." J Natl Cancer Inst. 2012 Oct 17;104(20):1576-90. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djs396. Epub 2012 Oct 5.

Kondapalli KC, Kallay LM, Muszelik M, Rao R. "Unconventional chemiosmotic coupling of NHA2, a mammalian Na+/H+ antiporter, to a plasma membrane H+ gradient." J Biol Chem. 2012 Oct 19;287(43):36239-50. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M112.403550. Epub 2012 Sep 4.

Feng, M., Grice, D., Faddy, H.M., Ngyuen, N., Leitch, S., Wang, Y., Muend, S., Kenny, P.A., Sukumar, S., Roberts-Thomson, S., Monteith, G., and Rao, R. (2010) Store-independent activation of Orai1 by SPCA2 in mammary tumors. Cell 143, 84-98.

Academic Affiliations & Courses

Graduate Program Affiliation

Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology

Courses and Syllabi

  • Pathways and Regulation
  • The Human Body
  • Molecules and Cells

Activities & Honors


  • American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship, Connecticut Affiliate, 1990 - 1991
  • Hans Prochaska Memorial Lecturer, Johns Hopkins MSTP-MD/PhD Program, 2009
  • Keynote speaker, Pan American Plant Membrane Biology Workshop, 2006
  • American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Award, The Johns Hopkins University, 1994 - 1997
  • Teacher of the Year Award, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 2009
  • Johns Hopkins Professors Award for Excellence in Teaching in Preclinical Sciences, Johns Hopkins, 2009
  • Nico Van Uden Lecturer (Keynote Speaker) at the 19th and 21st SMYTE conferences at Crete and Bonn, 2001 - 2003


  • American Association of Science (AAS)
  • American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB)
  • American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB)
  • Biophysical Society (BP)
  • Federation of American Society of Experimental Biology (FASEB)

Professional Activities

  • Editorial Advisory Board, ASBMB Today, 2013
  • Editorial Board, Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2011 - 2016
  • Editorial Board, Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2003 - 2008
  • NIH Review Panel, Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) Program, 2010
  • NIH Review Panel for Predoctoral Fellowships (Minorities and Disabilities), 2006 - 2007
  • Poster Judge, Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), 2008
  • , Women’s Leadership Council (WLC), 2002
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