Principal Investigator Na Cai

Translational Genetics Group

Research

We want to understand the etiology behind mental health conditions, specifically Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). MDD will be the second highest cause of morbidity by 2020 according to the World Health Organisation, with a lifetime prevalence of 20%. However, research efforts have not discovered quantitative measures for its diagnosis, nor pharmaceutical interventions that are widely effective. This makes studying MDD a difficult and interesting problem that requires innovative and interdisciplinary solutions. Molecular understanding of the disease through genetics and genomics, in combination with deep-phenotyping of both clinical features and environmental factors, is the way forward. In particular, we focus on how genetic variants interact with both the internal metabolic environment and external stressors in conferring disease risk and heterogeneity. Our ultimate goal is to use large-scale phenotyping, genetics and multi-omics approaches to identify symptomatic profiles and biological markers to improve diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of the disease. 

Our aims

To use large-scale population-based association approaches to identify heterogenous subtypes of MDD.

To follow up genetic association results with multi-omics investigations of molecular mechanisms, so as to enable their clinical translation to improve diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of the disease.

Dr. Na Cai

My research interests lie in understanding the genetic and metabolic basis of neuropsychiatric diseases, with a particular focus on the heterogeneous etiology of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). I did my PhD on genetics of MDD at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in University of Oxford and the effects of the disease on levels of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Prior to coming to HPC I spent three and a half years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), where I worked on the impact of phenotyping on genetic studies of MDD and mtDNA effects on molecular markers of metabolism. With every project on these two seemingly parallel fronts, their overlap becomes a little more apparent. My goal is to see them converge to form a picture of how genetic variations leading to phenotyping variations in metabolism affects risk for neuropsychiatric diseases. This would lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms behind MDD and other neuropsychiatric diseases, and help identify ways to improve their diagnosis, treatment and monitoring.

Factsheet

Positions and Career

 

2019 – Current: Principal Investigator Helmholtz Pioneer Campus, Helmholtz Zentrum München

2016 – 2019: EBI-Sanger Postdoctoral Fellow, Wellcome Sanger Insitute and European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI)

 

 

 

2011 – 2016: DPhil in Clinical Medicine, Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford

 

2008 – 2011: BA (Hons), MA in Natural Sciences (Biological), University of Cambridge

 

 

 

2017 – 2019: Raymond and Beverley Sackler By-Fellowship (postdoctoral), Churchill College, University of Cambridge

 

2016 – 2019: EBI-Sanger Postdoctoral Fellowship (ESPOD), European Bioinformatics Institute, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

 

2011 – 2015: A*STAR Graduate Scholarship (Overseas), Agency of Science, Technology and Research, Singapore

 

2008 – 2011: Honorary Scholar, Cambridge Commonwealth Trust

 

2008 – 2011: National Science Scholarship, Agency of Science, Technology and Research, Singapore

 

 

2019: Chair of Gordon Research Seminar on Quantitative Genetics and Genomics

2019: Faculty at UCLA Computational Genetics Summer Institute (CGSI)

 

Na Cai will be the Vice-chair of Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on Quantitative Genetics and Genomics 2021 and Co-chair of GRC on Quantitative Genetics and Genomics 2023, and she is a faculty member at the UCLA Computational Genetics Summer Institute (CGSI). 

 

 

PhD Students

Lianyun Huang

E-Mail

MSc: in Epidemiology at Institut für Medizinische Informationsverarbeitung Biometrie und Epidemiologie (IBE), Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU), Germany
Research Focus: Epidemiology, especially Genetic Epidemiology
Master Thesis: “Association between different blood glucose measures and short-term mortality in patients with acute myocardial infarction”
Hobbies: Flute, swimming, hiking and biking

 

Xenofon Giannoulis

E-Mail

MSc. «Computer Science and Medical Informatics» University of Thessaly, Greece
Research Focus: «Gene Environment interactions in complex traits»
MSc. Thesis: «Quality Control and Imputation of Genotype data from different Illumina Arrays»
Hobbies: Music Production, Skiing, Windsurfing

Simon Wengert

E-Mail

MSc: Molecular Biotechnology (Major in Bioinformatics) at Heidelberg University, Germany
Research Focus: studying the regulatory effects of variations in the mtDNA between individuals in processes like aging and the formation of neuropsychiatric diseases
Master Thesis: “Integration of Single-Cell Gene-Expresion and Chromatin-Accessibility Data Using Deep Learning Methods”.
Hobbies: singing in choirs, climbing, climate activism

Selected Publications

Minimal phenotyping yields genome-wide association signals of low specificity for major depression

Cai, N., Revez, J.A., Adams, M.J. et al. Minimal phenotyping yields genome-wide association signals of low specificity for major depression. Nat Genet 52, 437–447 (2020). 

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Using genetics to identify and model phenotypic subtypes

Dahl A. et al., Reverse GWAS: Using genetics to identify and model phenotypic subtypes, PLoS Genetics (2019) doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1008009 

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Molecular genetic analysis subdivided by adversity exposure reveals etiologic heterogeneity in major depression

Peterson R. E., Cai N. et al., Molecular genetic analysis subdivided by adversity exposure reveals etiologic heterogeneity in major depression, American Journal of Psychiatry (2018) doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.17060621

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Reevaluation of SNP heritability in complex human traits

Speed D., et al., Reevaluation of SNP heritability in complex human traits, Nature Genetics (2019) doi: 10.1038/ng.3865

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Molecular genetic analysis subdivided by adversity exposure suggests etiologic heterogeneity in major depression

Peterson R. E., Cai N., Bigdeli T. B. et al., Molecular genetic analysis subdivided by adversity exposure suggests etiologic heterogeneity in major depression, JAMA Psychiatry (2017) doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.3578

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Genetic control over mtDNA and its relationship to major depressive disorder

Cai N. et al., Genetic control over mtDNA and its relationship to major depressive disorder, Current Biology (2015) doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.10.065
 

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Sparse whole genome sequencing identifies two loci for major depressive disorder

Cai N., Bigdeli T. B., Kretzschmar W. W., Li Y. et al., Sparse whole genome sequencing identifies two loci for major depressive disorder, Nature (2015) doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.03.008

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Molecular Signatures of Major Depression

Cai N., Chang S., Li Y. et al., Molecular Signatures of Major Depression, Current Biology (2015) doi: 10.1038/nature14659
 

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Contact us

HPC contact Engel

Contact

 

Helmholtz Pioneer Campus
Helmholtz Zentrum München
Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt (GmbH)

Ingolstädter Landstr. 1
85764 Neuherberg
Germany