Houjian Cai, Ph.D.

Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences
Associate Professor

Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences


Ph.D., Microbiology, University of Tennessee (UT), 2006

Post Doctoral Fellow, Prostate cancer Biology, University of California Los Angeles, 2011

Areas of Expertise

Research Areas: Protein acylation in cancer progression, fatty acylation metabolism, drug discovery on inhibition of N-myristoyltransferases,
stromal-epithelial crosstalk in prostate stem cells

Opportunities for Collaboration: Drug delivery, medicinal chemistry for drug development, protein quantification by mass spectrometry

Honors, Awards, and Achievements
  • Department of Defense, postdoctoral fellow training award, 2008-2009
  • Science Alliance Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement, UTK, 2006
  • Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society, 2006
Research Interests

The goal of my lab is to interrogate the molecular mechanisms in facilitation of tumor progression and provide the scientific rationale for using small molecule inhibitors for cancer treatment. Numerous oncogenic proteins require fatty acyl modifications to carry out their functions in cancer cells.  Protein acylation, including myristoylation and palmitoylation, is particularly essential for leading these proteins to the correct location at the cytoplasmic membrane, thereby facilitating molecular functions. We use state-of-the-art techniques to:

  1. Investigate how protein acylation regulates oncogenic signaling and tumor progression. High fat diets provide a tremendous source of fatty acids for the acceleration of oncogenic signaling. This project is to understand the molecular mechanisms behind if and how high fat diets are associated with cancer progression.
  2. Identify therapeutic approaches of targeting protein acylation for cancer treatment. We are working to identify lead compounds that exhibit biological efficacy in the inhibition of protein acylation and thereby cancer progression. This project will allow us to develop potential drugs for chemotherapy.
  3. Investigate molecular mechanisms of how protein acylation facilitates tumorigenesis. The expression and activity of enzymes that facilitate protein acylation are usually elevated in cancers. This project will allow us to understand the molecular basis of cancer progression and identify new oncogenic targets for cancer treatment.
  4. Investigate how oncogenic signaling promotes the expansion of cancer stem cells. We have identified that synergy of some oncogenic signaling promotes the expansion of cancer stem cells. This project is to study the underlying biological mechanisms of how cancer stem cells undergo the differentiation process to promote tumor progression.
Selected Publications

Sungjin Kim, Omar Awad Alsaidan, Octavia Goodwin, Qianjin Li, Zhen Han, Aiping Bai, Thomas Albers, Zanna Beharry, Y. George Zheng, James S. Norris, Zdzislaw M. Szulc, Alicja Bielawska, Iryna Lebedyeva, Scott D. Pegan, Houjian Cai. (2017) Blocking Myristoylation of Src Inhibits Its Kinase Activity and Suppresses Prostate Cancer Progression, Cancer Research, 77(24):6950-62. (IF: 9.122)

Sungjin Kim, Xiangkun Yang, Qianjin Li, Meng Wu, Leah Costyn, Zanna Beharry, Alicja Bielawska, Michael G. Bartlett, Houjian Cai (2017). Myristoylation of Src kinase mediates Src-induced and high-fat diet accelerated prostate tumor progression in mice, Journal of Biological Chemistry, 292(45):18422-18433. (IF: 4.125)

Yahya Alhamhoom, Guisheng Zhang, Mingming Gao, Houjian Cai, Dexi Liu (2017). In vivo growth and responses to treatment of renal cell carcinoma in different environments, Am J Cancer Res. 2017 Feb 1;7(2):301-311. (IF: 3.264)

Xiangkun Yang, Yongjie Ma, Ning Li, Houjian Cai, and Michael G. Bartlett (2017). Development of a novel method for the determination of acyl-CoA compounds by liquid chromatography mass spectrometry to probe the metabolism of fatty acids. Analytical Chemistry, 89 (1):813–821. (IF: 6.320)

Sungjin Kim, Omar Awad Alsaidan, Octavia Goodwin, Qianjin Li, Essilvo Sulejmani, Zhen Han, Aiping Bai, Thomas Albers, Zanna Beharry,Y. George Zheng, James S. Norris, Zdzislaw M. Szulc, Alicja Bielawska, Iryna Lebedyeva, Scott D. Pegan, Houjian Cai, Blocking myristoylation of Src inhibits its kinase activity and suppresses prostate cancer progression, Cancer Research. Accepted.

Sungjin Kim, Xiangkun Yang, Qianjin Li, Meng Wu, Leah Costyn, Zanna Beharry, Alicja Bielawska, Michael G. Bartlett, Houjian Cai. Myristoylation of Src kinase mediates Src induced and high fat diet accelerated prostate tumor progression in mice, The Journal of biological chemistry. Accepted.

Yang, X., Ma, Y., Li, N., Cai, H., & Bartlett, M. G. (2016). Development of a Novel Method for the Determination of Acyl-CoA Compounds by Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry to Probe the Metabolism of Fatty Acids. Analytical Chemistry. Doi:1021/acs.analchem.6b03623 (IF=5.886)

Meng Wu, Qianjin Li, Ezequiel J. Tolosa, Lishann Ingram, Sungjin Kim, Demetri D. Spyropoulos, Zanna Beharry, Martin E. Fernandez-Zapico, Houjian Cai (2016). Gli transcription factors control the oncogenic differentiation of prostate basal/progenitor cells induced by the Kras-androgen receptor axis. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 291(49):25749-25760.

Houjian Cai, Melinda Hauser, Fred Naider, and Jeffrey M. Becker (2016). Halo Assay for Toxic Peptides and Other Compounds in Microorganisms. Bio-protocol, 6(22).

An, N., Cen, B., Cai, H., Song, J. H., Kraft, A., & Kang, Y. (2016). Pim1 kinase regulates c-Kit gene translation. Experimental Hematology & Oncology, 5(1). doi:10.1186/s40164-016-0060-3

Melinda Hauser, Houjian Cai, Fred Naider, and Jeffrey M. Becker (2016). Uptake Assay for Radiolabeled Peptides in Yeast. Bio-protocol, 6(22).

Genevieve L. Coe, Priscilla S. Redd, Amy V. Paschall, Chunwan Lu, Lilly Gu, Houjian Cai, Thomas Albers, Iryna O. Lebedyeva, Kebin Liu (2016). Ceramide mediates FasL-induced caspase 8 activation in colon carcinoma cells to enhance FasL-induced cytotoxicity by tumor-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes. Sci Rep. 2016 Aug 4;6:30816. doi: 10.1038/srep30816.

Alsaggar, M., Yao, Q., Cai, H., & Liu, D. (2016). Differential growth and responsiveness to cancer therapy of tumor cells in different environments. Clinical & Experimental Metastasis 33(2):115-24. doi:10.1007/s10585-015-9761-y.

Verweij, F. J., de Heus, C., Kroeze, S., Cai, H., Kieff, E., Piersma, S. R., . . . Pegtel, D. M. (2015). Exosomal sorting of the viral oncoprotein LMP1 is restrained by TRAF2 association at signalling endosomes. Journal of Extracellular Vesicles, 4(0). doi:10.3402/jev.v4.26334

Kummetha Venkata J, An N, Stuart R, Costa LJ, Cai H., Coker W, Song JH, Gibbs K, Matson T, Garrett-Mayer E,Wan Z, Ogretmen B, Smith C, Kang Y. (2014). Inhibition of sphingosine kinase 2 down-regulates the expression of c-Myc and Mcl-1 and induces apoptosis in multiple myeloma. Blood 124(12).

Houjian Cai, Sanaz Memarzadeh, Tanya Stoyanova, Andrew S Kraft, Owen Witte. (2012). Collaboration of Kras and AR signaling promotes EZH2 expression and proliferation of tumor propagating cells in prostate cancer. Cancer Research, 72(18):4672-4681.

Stoyanova T, Goldstein AS, Cai H, Drake JM, Huang J, Witte ON. (2012). Regulated Proteolysis of Trop2 Drives Epithelial Hyperplasia and Stem Cell Self-Renewal via β-catenin Signaling. Genes and Development, 2012, 15;26(20):2271-85.

Justin M. Drake, Nicholas A. Graham, Tanya Stoyanova, Amir Sedghi, Andrew S. Goldstein, Houjian Cai, Daniel A. Smith, Hong Zhang, Evangelia Komisopoulou, Jiaoti Huang, Thomas G. Graeber, and Owen N. Witte. (2012). Oncogene-specific activation of tyrosine kinase networks during prostate cancer progression, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 2012. Jan 31;109(5):1643-1648.

Houjian Cai, Daniel A. Smith, Sanaz Memarzadeh, Clifford A. Lowell, Jonathan  A. Cooper, and Owen N. Witte. (2011). Differential transformation capacity of Src Family Kinases during the initiation of prostate cancer, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 2011. Apr 19; 108(16):6579-84.

Houjian Cai, Ivan Babic , Xiao Wei , Jiaoti Huang, Owen N. Witte. (2011). Invasive prostate carcinoma driven by c-Src and androgen receptor synergy, Cancer Research, 71(3): 862-872.

Mulholland DJ, Tran LM, Li Y, Cai H, Morim A, Wang S, Plaisier S,  Garraway IP, Huang J,  Graeber TG, Wu H. (2011). Cell Autonomous Role of PTEN in Regulating Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer Growth. Cancer Cell, 2011 Jun 14; 19(6):792-804.

Sanaz Memarzadeh, Houjian Cai, Deanna Janzen, Li Xin, Rita Lukacs, Mireille Riedinger, Yang Zong, Karel De Gendt, Guido Verhoeven, Jiaoti Huang, Owen N. Witte. (2011). Role of autonomous androgen receptor signaling in prostate cancer initiation is dichotomous and dependent on the oncogenic signal, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 2011 May 10;108(19):7962-7.

Grant Support
  • National Institutes of Health
  • Department of Defense, Prostate Cancer Research
  • UGA-AU Seed Grant Program

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