Haijiang Cai, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor & BIO5 Fellow
(520) 621-6654 office

Rm 427 Gould-Simpson
Mailing Address:
    GS 611, Department of Neuroscience, University of Arizona
    1040 E. 4th St. PO Box 210077,  Tucson, AZ 85721-0077
B.S. USTC, 2001; Ph.D. USC, 2007; Postdoc, Caltech, 2008-2015.


We are studying the neural circuits of animal behaviors in health and disease, with a focus on understanding how the neural circuits regulate feeding and emotional behaviors such as fear, anxiety, and depression.

1. Interactions of the feeding and emotion neural circuits. One fascinating and important phenomenon (or problem) in neuroscience is that many neuronal diseases are co-morbid. For example, most eating disorder patients also have emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. However, little is known about the neurobiology underlying eating disorders, even less is known about its relationship to emotional disorders. Recently, we have identified a specific population of neurons in the central extended amygdala (CEA), called PKC-δ+ neurons, that play important roles in regulating both feeding and emotional behaviors including anxiety and conditioned fear (Nature Neuroscience 2014, 17:1240 and Nature 2010, 468:270). This work has opened a unique door to understanding the interactions of feeding and emotion circuits. One immediate important question is whether the same or rather different subset of CEA PKC-δ+ neurons mediate these different behaviors.

2. Central neural circuits of gut-brain communication. Satiety signals such as CCK are released in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) during a meal. They activate the vagus nerves to reach the central brain nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS), and then to the parabrachial nucleus (PBN). PBN sends information further to CEA and other nucleus to stop feeding. Other anorexigenic signals including LiCl and bitter tastant, are also using similar pathways to reach the central brain to mediate various behavioral responses. Interestingly, CEA neurons represent the first inhibitory relay in this pathway. Therefore, conventional mapping methods such as c-Fos staining cannot go further downstream of this pathway. The genetic identification of CEA PKC-δ+ neurons provided us a unique tool to investigate the gut-brain communication in a specific way and determine the downstream brain regions after CEA.

3. Feeding and emotion circuits in energy balance, metabolism, and obesity. More and more evidences suggest that the neural circuits regulate emotion and acute feeding behaviors also contribute to the long term homeostasis of energy balance, metabolism, and body weight. Do CEA neural circuits also regulate obesity, a more and more serious global health problem in modern society? The neurons in the hypothalamic nuclei (Hyp), including lateral hypothalamus, arcuate nucleus, and paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus, have been well demonstrated to be involved in acute feeding regulation and long term energy homeostasis. What is the relationship of the CEA feeding circuits to the circuits in the hypothalamic nuclei?

Selected Publications (click here for the complete list)

  1. Wang Y, Kim J, Schmit MB, Cho TS, Fang C, Cai H. A bed nucleus of stria terminalis microcircuit regulating inflammation-associated modulation of feeding. Nat Commun. 2019 Jun 24;10(1):2769. doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-10715-x. PubMed PMID: 31235690.
    News & Media: UA News | Daily Wildcat | Brain & Behavior Research Foundation News | KGUN 9 NEWS | ABC15 News | Arizona Publica Media (AZPM) | Science Daily | EurekAlert | Neuroscience News | Daily Mail | Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

  2. Cai H, Haubensak W, Anthony TE, Anderson DJ. Central amygdala PKC-δ(+) neurons mediate the influence of multiple anorexigenic signals. Nat Neurosci. 2014 Sep;17(9):1240-8. doi: 10.1038/nn.3767. Epub 2014 Jul 27. PubMed PMID: 25064852; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4146747.
    News & Media: New York Times: A mouse switch turns off appetite | BBC: Brain cells can suppress appetite, study in mice shows

  3. Haubensak W, Kunwar PS*, Cai H*, Ciocchi S*, Wall NR, Ponnusamy R, Biag J, Dong HW, Deisseroth K, Callaway EM, Fanselow MS, Lüthi A, Anderson DJ. Genetic dissection of an amygdala microcircuit that gates conditioned fear. Nature. 2010 Nov 11;468(7321):270-6. doi: 10.1038/nature09553. PubMed PMID: 21068836; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3597095.  *equal contribution

  4. Cai H, Reim K, Varoqueaux F, Tapechum S, Hill K, Sørensen JB, Brose N, Chow RH. Complexin II plays a positive role in Ca2+-triggered exocytosis by facilitating vesicle priming. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Dec 9;105(49):19538-43. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0810232105. Epub 2008 Nov 25. PubMed PMID: 19033464; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2614796.


NROS 418 (Spring, with Dr. Lynne Oland): Fundamental Principles in Systems Neuroscience

Lab Members

Matthew Schmit, PhD Student, GIDP in Neuroscience
Anna Fang, Research Specialist
Kevin Vo, Undergraduate Student
Tahia Hanseen, Undergraduate Student
Mayra Rivera, Undergraduate Student

Former members
Tiffany Cho, Undergraduate Student, Currently Research Technician at the University of Arizona
Ross Mansouri-Rad, Research Technician, Currently Graduate Student at the University of Chicago
JungMin Kim, Research Technician, Currently Graduate Student at the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus
Yong Wang, Ph.D. Postdoctoral fellow, Currently Associate Professor at the Xi'an Jiaotong University, China

Makenna Anderson, University High School Student, Currently student at the University of Arizona













Graduate program affiliation

GIDP in NeuroscienceGIDP in Physiological Sciences