Skip Navigation

Find a Doctor

Find a Researcher


Rong Li, M.S., Ph.D.

Photo of Dr. Rong Li, M.S., Ph.D.
  • Director, Center for Cell Dynamics, Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences
  • Professor of Cell Biology

Research Interests

Cellular biology; Cellular dynamics; Molecular biology; Cancer; Kidney diseases


Dr. Rong Li is a professor of cell biology and of oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is also a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering and a member of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Her research uses microscopy to see how cells work. Dr. Li serves as the director of the Center for Cell Dynamics at the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences and is a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor.

Dr. Li and her team are currently investigating how cells consolidate their damaged proteins and prevent them from spreading freely, in order to understand how to better treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s and ALS. 

Dr. Li received her B.S. and M.S. in biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University. She earned her Ph.D. in genetics and cell biology from the University of California, San Francisco. She completed postdoctoral work in molecular cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Li joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 2015.

Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, Dr. Li was a principal investigator at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri and held associate professor and assistant professor positions in the Department of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School.

She serves on the editorial board of Development, BCM-Cell Biology and Molecular Biology of the Cell. Her work has been recognized with awards from Wichita State University, the Stowers Institute for Medical Research and Harvard Medical School. more


  • Director, Center for Cell Dynamics, Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences
  • Professor of Cell Biology
  • Professor of Biomedical Engineering
  • Professor of Oncology

Departments / Divisions

Centers & Institutes



  • Ph.D., University of California (San Francisco) (California) (1992)
  • M.S., Yale University (Connecticut) (1988)

Research & Publications

Research Summary

Dr. Li strives to understand the fundamental laws governing the behavior and interactions of cellular systems. Her current work focuses on questions pertaining to the molecular and physical basis of self-organization during morphogenesis, and the evolutionary dynamics of cell division pathways. She wants to apply lessons learned from basic research to the understanding and cure of diseases such as cancer and polycystic kidney disease.


The Rong Li Lab works to understand how eukaryotic cells polarize, divide, move and vary their genomes to adapt to the changing environment. Researchers strive for integrated analyses on the systems level that combines whole-cell quantitative observation and mathematical modeling with cutting-edge molecular genetics approaches. They are interested in how cells generate patterns through self-organization in response to environmental signals, accomplish division or motility through coordinated structural rearrangements and force production, and, when challenged with hostile environments or genetic perturbations, evolve innovative solutions to maintain vitality and functionality. 

In addition to the goal of identifying fundamental principles, researchers are actively seeking opportunities to apply basic-research insights to the improvement of human health. Their research areas include cell polarization and segregation of aging determinants; spindle positioning and asymmetric meiotic cell division; motility of differentiated mammalian cells in diverse environments; cellular adaptation through variation of chromosome copy numbers; epithelial morphogenesis; and polycystic kidney disease.

Lab Website: Rong Li Lab

Selected Publications

Zhu J, Heinecke D, Mulla W, Bradford WD, Rubinstein B, Box A, Haug JS, Li R. "Single-cell based quantitative assay of chromosome transmission fidelity." G3. 2015;5:1043-56.

Chen G, Mulla WA, Kucharavy A, Tsai HJ, Rubinstein B, Conkright J, McCroskey S, Bradford WD, Weems L, Haug JS, Seidel CW, Berman J, Li R. "Targeting the adaptability of heterogeneous aneuploids." Cell. 2015;160:771-784.

Suraneni P, Fogelson B, Rubinstein B, Noguera P, Volkmann N, Hanein D, Mogilner A, Li R. "A mechanism of leading edge protrusion in the absence of Arp2/3 complex." Mol Biol Cell. 2015;26:901-12.

Zhou C, Slaughter BD, Unruh JR, Guo F, Yu Z, Mickey K, Narkar A, Ross RT, McClain M, Li R. "Organelle-based aggregation and retention of damaged proteins in asymmetrically dividing cells." Cell. 2014;159:530-542.

Smith SE, Rubinstein B, Mendes Pinto I, Slaughter BD, Unruh JR, Li R. "Independence of symmetry breaking on Bem1-mediated autocatalytic activation of Cdc42." J Cell Biol. 2013;202:1091-1106.

Li R. "The art of choreographing asymmetric cell division." Dev Cell. 2013;25:439-450.

Yi K, Rubinstein B, Unruh JR, Guo F, Slaughter BD, Li R. "Sequential actin-based pushing forces drive meiosis I chromosome migration and symmetry breaking in oocytes." J Cell Biol. 2013;200:567-576.

Li R, Albertini DF. "The road to maturation: somatic cell interaction and self-organization of the mammalian oocyte." Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol.2013;14:141-152.

Slaughter BD, Unruh JR, Das A, Smith SE, Rubinstein B, Li R. "Non-uniform membrane diffusion enables steady-state cell polarization via vesicular trafficking." Nat Commun. 2013;4:1380.

Pinto IM, Rubinstein B, Kucharavy A, Unruh J, Li R. "Actin depolymerization drives actomyosin ring contraction during budding yeast cytokinesis." Dev Cell. 2012;22:1247-1260.

Activities & Honors


  • William Neaves Award, Stowers Institute for Medical Research, 2010 - 2012
  • Pilot Project Program Award, The Alexander and Margaret Stewart Trust, 2004 - 2005
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences Award for Mentoring, Harvard Medical School, 2000
  • Hoechst Marion Roussel Research Award, Hoechst Marion Roussel Inc., 1999 - 2001
  • Giovanni Armenise-Harvard Foundation Award, Giovanni Armenise-Harvard Foundation, 1998 - 2001
  • Funds for Discovery Exploratory Award, 1997 - 1998
  • New Investigator Award, The Medical Foundation, 1995 - 1997
  • Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Research Fellowship, Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, 1993 - 1994

Professional Activities

  • Editor, Development, 2009
  • Associate Editor, Molecular Biology of the Cell, 2009
  • Associate Editor, BMC-Cell Biology, 2008
  • Program Committee, 2016 American Society for Cell Biology Annual Meeting, 2015
  • Editorial Board, Biophysical Journal, 2012
  • Selection Committee, American Society for Cell Biology Early Career Life Science Award, 2012
  • Selection Committee Chair, American Society for Cell Biology Bernfield Award and Gilula Award, 2011
  • Program Committee, American Society for Cell Biology 2011 Annual Meeting, 2010

Videos & Media

Recent News Articles and Media Coverage

Rong Li on Cell Dynamics and Cellular Evolution (Fundamentals)

Is this you? Edit Profile
back to top button