Welcome to the Cao Lab!

The Cao lab aims to understand how the environmental stimuli to the central nervous system shape biological processes and disease pathology, and how to harness this knowledge to improve health and treat diseases. Our research has revealed that an enriched environment with increased sensory, cognitive, motor, and social stimulations not only improves brain function and resiliency, but also positively affects the body’s overall state of health including proliferative, immune, and metabolic functions. Mechanistically, we identify a single gene in the hypothalamus, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), orchestrating the body’s three major adaptive systems—nerve, endocrine, and immune systems, to mediate the diverse health benefits associated with living condition promoting social engagement and healthy lifestyle. Our pioneering work has stimulated the emerging field of environmental intervention of cancer and metabolic disorders. Our team is using multidisciplinary approaches to further define the “mind-and-body” connection driven by the hypothalamic BDNF, and identify molecular mediators linking nervous, immune, and endocrine systems across lifespan. We also aim to foster genetic and pharmacological approaches to combat obesity, metabolic syndrome, aging, and cancer.

Principal Investigator

Dr. Lei Cao

Dr. Cao is William C. and Joan E. Davis Professor of Cancer Research, and a member of the Molecular Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention Program at the OSUCCC-James, where her research focuses on neural regulation of metabolism and cancer. Our work provides insights on how one’s living condition, social contact, lifestyle can efficiently influence brain activity (cognition, stress, mood, etc.) and how these changes in brain interact with other systems (fat, endocrine, immune systems, etc.) both at the molecular level and at the systemic level to influence the metabolism and various diseases including obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and cancer.

List of published work in My Bibliography: