Minying Cai, PhD

Research Professor of Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of Arizona
Email Address: 
Phone Number: 
(520) 621-8617
Professional Bio: 

Dr. Minying Cai is currently a research professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Arizona. She has been working in the Chemistry & Biochemistry department for more than 16 years and has more than 100 publications in the area of novel drug discovery for obesity, diabetes, cancer and pain. Dr. Cai received the Ph.D. at the University of Arizona in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics in 2004. Before that, she had been working in Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica; Shanghai Research Center of Biotechnology in Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Cai has been working on peptide based drug discovery for more than 23 years, starting with discovery of developing anti-microbial peptide and insulin related peptide drug.  Sixteen years ago, she started working on melanotropin and opioid related drug discovery. Dr. Cai's research in peptides involves highly multidisciplinary areas including chemistry and biochemistry; molecular pharmacology, molecular imaging, and cancer research, with expertise in molecular pharmacology, synthetic, organic and peptide methodology, chemical and biophysical analysis and evaluation, and in vitro and in vivo expression. Dr. Cai is currently working on several projects at the interface of chemistry, pharmacology and biology within the areas of: 1. Structure based drug design and synthesis of GPCR ligands, including developing selective hMCRs ligand; 2. Developing novel biophysics tools for molecular imaging; novel biomarker for high-throughput screening system. 3. Exploiting novel scaffold via computational chemistry for small molecule therapeutics for energy balance and cancer study; 4. Creating a nanostructured integrated platform for biodetection and imaging-guided therapy.

Research Information

Research Program: 
Therapeutic Development
Member Status: 
Research Member
Year of Membership Acceptance: 
College of Science
Research Focus: 

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. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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. 
  11. Cai, M.; Kulkarni, V.; Hruby VJ PEPTIDES AND PEPTIDOMIMETICS Chapter 8 of "Textbook of Drug Design and Discovery." Fourth Edition 2009
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
Collaborative Research: 

Regent Professor. Victor Hruby, Ph.D., (Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of Arizona): Design, synthesis and testing synthetic melanotropins, opiates for cancer pain, and for superpotent synthetic melanotropic peptides for skin tanning and skin cancer prevention.

Regent Professor. David Alberts, M.D., (Medicine, Pharmacology, University of Arizona Cancer Center): Developing novel technologies for the earlier diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer.

Professor. Horst Kessler, Ph.D., (Center for Integrated Protein Science and Institute for Advanced Study at Technische Universität München, Lichtenbergstr. Germany): Developing bioavailable peptide drug by conformational constrained peptides.

Professor. David Craik, Ph.D., (Institute for Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland Brisbane, Australia). Developing oral available peptide drugs using cycloid template.

Professional Information

Other Experience and Professional Memberships/Affiliations: 
American Peptide Society
American Chemical Society