The Cao Lab is interested in molecular signaling mechanisms that orchestrate daily rhythms in our brain, and how their dysregulation contributes to various neurological and psychiatric diseases with particular interests in the role of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling and mechanisms that control mRNA translation in the circadian clock.

We constantly look for talented and motivated undergraduate, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to join our lab.

Current Research Interests

Circadian (~24 h) rhythmicity is a fundamental property of nearly all living beings on this planet. In mammals, the master pacemaker is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. The SCN relays photic information from the retina to the brain to synchronize endogenous rhythms to ambient light/dark cycles.  Desynchronization of the endogenous rhythms can lead to fatigue, insomnia and memory loss as seen in jet lag.

Circadian clocks also exist in a variety of extra-SCN regions throughout the brain. The rhythms in these regions modulate brain activities on a daily basis.  A variety of neurophysiological processes are rhythmically regulated by the circadian clock, which accounts for the time-of-day variations in our sensory, motor, memory and social functions.  Conversely, disruption of circadian rhythms has been reported in patients with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Research Methods

Our lab utilizes a combination of molecular, cellular and behavioral technologies, including polysome profiling, RNA sequencing, qRT-PCR, Western blotting, immunocytochemistry, electrophysiology, confocal microscopy, viral-mediated gene silencing and animal behavioral analysis (e.g., circadian, social and memory tests, EEG). A variety of model systems, including cell culture, organotypic slice culture, and whole animals (transgenic and knockout mice) are employed.


Name: Ruifeng (Ray) Cao, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences
Principal Investigator
Office Address:
Department of Biomedical Sciences
249 SMed
1035 University Drive
Duluth, MN 55812

Ruifeng (Ray) Cao