The Cai laboratory uses mouse as a model system to study the molecular pathways controlling heart development and disease. Uncovering signaling cascades underlying early heart development also has great implications for the research of cardiac regenerative biology.
My previous research has showed that Isl1 (Islet1), a Lim-homeodomain transcription factor, labels a cardiac progenitor population that gives rise to the majority of cardiac segments (right ventricle, outflow tract and atria). Loss of Isl1 results in a malformed heart that lacks these cardiac segments during early heart development. In addition to the study of Isl1, I discovered that T-box transcription factor Tbx20 plays critical roles in regulating cardiac cell proliferation and specification. More recently, I identified another cardiac progenitor population, Tbx18-expressing proepicardial and epicardial cells that can gives rise to both myocytes and non-myocytes cardiac lineages during early heart development. The Cai laboratory is currently performing research to decipher the transcriptional networks of Isl1 and Tbx20 in heart development. We are also interested in exploring the therapeutic potential of Isl1 and Tbx18 progenitor cells in cardiac repair and regeneration.