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Minying Cai

Research Professor

Degrees and Appointments

  • Ph.D. 2004 University of Arizona, Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics
  • Research Assistant 1991-1992 Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • Research Associate 1992-1997 Shanghai Research Center of Biotechnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • Associate Professor 1997-1999 Shanghai Research Center of Biotechnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Awards and Honors

  • The highest award from China Ministry of Science and Technology for “Progress in Science & Technology”. (1997.3) Award Given to the Project on Studies of Transgenic Plants (Major Role).
  • The highest award from China Ministry of Agriculture for the work of transgenic plant project ‘Genetic Engineering of Potato Cultivars for Resistance to Bacteria’. (1996.7) Individual Award Given to the Project.
  • Travel award from American Peptide Society (2001.6)
  • V.J. Hruby Fellowship Award in Peptide Research for “Those who succeed in science do so by hard work and the excellence of their ideas”. (2005.6)

Peptides and proteins play a vital role in almost every cellular process in living organisms. Our research discovers and determines structural information on peptides and proteins to design drugs to more effectively treat human disease. We are working on projects at the interface of chemical biology, molecular pharmacology and molecular biology within the areas of:1. Structure based drug design and synthesis of GPCR ligands, including developing selective human melanocortin receptors (hMCRs) ligands; 2. Developing novel biophysics tools for molecular imaging; novel molecular biomarker; high-throughput screening system, etc. 3. Exploiting novel scaffold via computational chemistry for small molecule therapeutics for energy balance and cancer study; 4. Exploring the novel physiological functions of melanocortin system involved. In collaboration with other investigators worldwide, we aim to identify and develop molecule modulators of GPCRs for the therapeutic treatment of melanoma, metabolic and CNS disorders.


Selected Publications: 

  1. Cai, M.; Marelli, U K.; Bao, J.; Beck, J. B.; Opperer, F.; Rechenmacher, F.; McLeod, K. R.; Zingsheim, M. R.; Doedens, L.; Kessler, H.; Hruby, V.J  Systematic Backbone Conformational Constraints on a Cyclic Melanotropin Ligand Leads to Highly Selective Ligands for Multiple Melanocortin Receptors, J. Med. Chem., 2015, 58 (16), pp 6359–6367
  2. Hruby, VJ and Cai, M Design of Peptide and Peptidomimetic Ligands with Novel Pharmacological Activity Profiles. Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology 2013, 53:557–80
  3. Cai, M.;Stankova, M.; Muthu, D.; Mayorov, A.; Yang, Z.; Cabello, C and Hruby VJ. An Unusual Conformation of MSH Analogues Leads to a Selective Human Melanocortin 1 Receptor Antagonist for Targeting Melanoma Cells. Biochemistry 2013, 52(4), 752-764.
  4. Rinne, P.; Nordlund, W.; Heinonen, I.; Penttinen, A.; Saraste, A.; Ruohonen, S.; Maekelae, S.; Vaehaetalo, L.; Kaipio, K.; Cai, M α-Melanocyte-stimulating hormone regulates vascular NO availability and protects against endothelial dysfunction Cardiovascular Research 2013, 97(2), 360-368.
  5. Cai, M.; Liu, Z.; Zheng, Z.; Hruby, VJ. Utilize Conjugated Melanotropins for the Earlier Diagnosis and Treatment of Melanoma E. J. Pharmacology, 2011, 188-193.
  6. Mayorov, AV.; Cai, M.; Palmer, ES.; Tanaka, DK.; Cain, JP.; Dedek, MM.; Tan, B.; Trivedi, D.; Hruby, VJ. Cyclic lactam hybrid α-MSH/Agouti-related protein (AGRP) analogues with nanomolar range binding affinities at the human melanocortin receptors Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters 2011, 21(10), 3099-3102.
  7. Hruby, VJ.; Cai, M.; Nyberg, J.; Muthu, D Approaches to the rational design of selective melanocortin receptor antagonists Expert Opinion on Drug Discovery 2011, 6(5), 543-557.
  8. Juni, A.; Cai, M; Stankova, M.; Waxman, AR.; Arout, C.; Klein, G.; Dahan, A.; Hruby, VJ.; Mogil, JS.; Kest, B. Sex-specific Mediation of Opioid-induced Hyperalgesia by the Melanocortin-1 Receptor. Anesthesiology 2009, Volume Date 2010, 112(1), 181-188
  9. Mayorov, AV.; Cai, M.; Palmer, ES.; Liu, Z.; Cain, JP.; Vagner, J.; Trivedi, D; Hruby, VJ. Solid-Phase Peptide Head-to-Side Chain Cyclodimerization: Discovery of C2-symmetric Cyclic Lactam Hybrid α-Melanocyte-Stimulating Hormone (MSH)/Agouti-Signaling Protein (ASIP) Analogues with Potent Activities at the Human Melanocortin Receptors. Peptides (New York, NY, United States) 2010, 31(10), 1894-1905.
  10. Doedens, L.; Opperer, F.; Cai, M.; Beck, JG.; Dedek, M.; Palmer, E.; Hruby, VJ; Kessler, H Multiple N-methylation of MT-II Backbone Amide Bonds Leads to Melanocortin Receptor Subtype hMC1R Selectivity; Pharmacological and Conformational Studies J. Amer. Chem. Soc. 2010, 132(23), 8115-8128.
  11. Cai, M.; Nyberg, J.; Hruby, VJ. Melanotropins as Drugs for the Treatment of Obesity and Other Feeding Disorders: Potential and Problems. Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry 2009, 9, 554-563. 
  12. Cai, M.; Kulkarni, V.; Hruby VJ PEPTIDES AND PEPTIDOMIMETICS Chapter 8 of "Textbook of Drug Design and Discovery." Fourth Edition 2009
  13. Yang, Y; Cai, Minying; Chen, Min; Qu, Hongchang; McPherson, David; Hruby, Victor; Harmon, Carroll M. Key Amino Acid Residues in the Melanocortin-4 Receptor for Nonpeptide THIQ Specific Binding and Signaling. Regulatory Peptides 2009, 155, 46-54.
  14. Qu, Hongchang; Cai, Minying; Mayorov, Alexander V.; Grieco, Paolo; Zingsheim, Morgan; Trivedi, Dev; Hruby, Victor J. Substitution of Arginine with Proline and Proline Derivatives in Melanocyte-Stimulating Hormones Leads to Selectivity for Human Melanocortin 4 Receptor. J. Med. Chem. 2009, 52(12), 3627-3635.
  15. Grieco, P.; Cai, M.; Liu, L.; Mayorov, AV.; Chandler, K.; Trivedi, D.; Lin, G.; Campiglia, P.; Novellino, E.; Hruby, VJ. Design and Microwave-Assisted Synthesis of Novel Macrocyclic Peptides Active at Melanocortin Receptors: Discovery of Potent and Selective hMC5R Receptor Antagonists. J. Med. Chem. 2008, 51(9), 2701-2707.
  16. Chen, M.; Cai, M.; Aprahamian, CJ; Georgeson, KE; Harmon, CM; Hruby, VJ; Yang Y Contribution of the Conserved Amino Acids of the Melanocortin-4 Receptor in NDP-MSH Binding and Signaling J. Biol. Chem 2007, 282 (30) 21712-21719.
  17. Cai, M.; Stankova, M.; Cabello, C.; Mayorov, A.; Trivedi, D.; and Hruby VJ. Novel a-MSH/γ-MSH Hybrid Analogues that Lead to Selective Ligands for the Human MC1 and MC3 Receptors J. Med. Chem. 2005, 48(6), 1839-1848.
  18. Cai, M.; Mayorov, A.; Ying, J.; Stankova, M.; Trivedi, D.; Cabello, C.; Hruby, VJ. Design of Novel Melanotropin Agonists and Antagonists With High Potency and Selectivity for Human Melanocortin Receptors Peptides (New York, NY, United States) 2005, 26(8), 1481-1485.
  19. Cai, M.; Stankova, M.; Pond, SJ.K.; Mayorov, AV.; Perry, JW.; Yamamura, HI.; Trivedi, D.; Hruby, VJ. Real Time Differentiation of G-protein Coupled Receptor (GPCR) Agonist and Antagonist by Two Photon Fluorescence Laser Microscopy. J. Amer. Chem. Soc. 2004, 126 (23), 7160-7161.
  20. Cai, M.; Cai, C.; Mayorov, A.; Xiong, C.; Cabello, CM.; Soloshonokb, VA.; Trivedi, D.; Hruby, VJ. Biological and Conformational Study of β-substituted Prolines in MT-II template: Steric Effects Leading to Human MC5 Receptor Selectivity J. Pep. Res. 2004, 63(2), 116-131.



CancerObesity & DiabetesPainBehaviorHighthroughtput ScreenGPCRMelanocortin SystemDrug Design & DiscoveryAmino Acid and Peptide Synthesis