Dr. Na Cai

Helmholtz Pioneer Campus (HPC) Principal Investigator

Translational Genetics


Chair of Translational Genomics (Prof. Zeggini)

Department of Medicine

Academic Career and Research Areas

Na Cai's research group uses quantitative methods and extensive multi-omics data sets to understand the interplay of genetic, metabolic and environmental factors in the etiology of neuropsychiatric disorders, with a special focus on Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Special areas of interest are how these factors and their interactions with each other lead to heterogeneity in the disease and how metabolic differences between individuals due to variations in their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) contribute to this. The group will use a combination of large-scale quantitative genetic analysis of existing data and hypothesis-driven generation of new multi-omics resources to elucidate the molecular mechanisms behind MDD.

Dr. Na Cai studied Natural Sciences Tripos (Biological) at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge, Great Britain. Then she completed her PhD at the Wellcome Trust Center for Human Genetics and the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine at the University of Oxford, UK, where she studied the genetics of major depressive disorder in the group of Professor Jonathan Flint. She completed her DPhil in clinical medicine in 2016. After receiving the EBI-Sanger Postdoctoral Fellowship, she joined the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and the Wellcome Sanger Institute as a postdoctoral fellow. During this time she was elected Research By-Fellow of Raymond and Beverley Sackler by Churchill College at the University of Cambridge. Since fall 2019, she is a Principle Investigator in Translational Genetics at the Helmholtz Pioneer Campus in Helmholtz Zentrum München.


    • Raymond and Beverly Sackler Research By-Fellowship (Post-doctoral), Churchill College, University of Cambridge (2017)
    • EBI-Sanger Postdoctoral Fellowship (ESPOD), European Bioinformatics Institute, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge (2016)
    • A*STAR Graduate Scholarship (Overseas), Agency of Science, Technology and Research, Singapore (2011)
    • Honorary Scholar, Cambridge Commonwealth Trust (2008)
    • National Science Scholarship, Agency of Science, Technology and Research, Singapore  (2008)

    Key Publications

    Cai N. et al.: "Minimal phenotyping yields GWAS hits of low specificity for major depression", Nat Genetics (2020)


    Dahl A. et al.: „Reverse GWAS: Using genetics to identify and model phenotypic subtypes“. PLoS Genetics (2019)


    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)


    Speed D., et al.: „Reevaluation of SNP heritability in complex human traits“. Nature Genetics (2019)


    Cai N. et al.: “Sparse whole-genome sequencing identifies two loci for major depressive disorder”, Nature (2015)