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Keji Zhao, Ph.D.

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Portrait of Keji Zhao
Keji Zhao, Ph.D.

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Keji Zhao, Ph.D., is director of the Systems Biology Center at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Zhao joined the NHLBI in 1999 and was appointed a senior investigator in 2007.

Dr. Zhao’s research focuses on the epigenetic regulation of chromatin, the combination of tightly-wound DNA and proteins that make up our chromosomes. Through various chemical modifications to DNA and chromatin proteins called histones, epigenetic mechanisms regulate which genes are turned on or off in a given cell, thus determining cell identity. Understanding how these epigenetic patterns are established during development and how improper epigenetic signals contribute to disease is the long-term goal for his lab.

Using advanced genome-wide mapping approaches developed at the NHLBI, Dr. Zhao’s group has been pioneering whole-genome analyses of human chromatin modifications. His group was the first to map the global methylation and acetylation patterns in human histone proteins, as well as the first to provide a genome-wide map of nucleosome positioning within chromatin (nucleosomes are the core repeating unit of chromatin).

His research efforts also focus on the enzymes responsible for generating the epigenetic modifications on chromatin. Recently, his group mapped the distribution of histone acetyltransferases (HATs) and deacetylases (HDACs), enzymes that regulate histone acetylation, in human T cells. By identifying these genome-wide epigenetic patterns, Dr. Zhao’s research has revealed numerous insights into the relationship between the epigenome, chromatin-modifying enzymes, and gene expression.

Dr. Zhao received his undergraduate degree from Changwei Normal College in Weifang, China in 1980 and his Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Geneva, Switzerland in 1996. Prior to joining the NHLBI, Dr. Zhao was a Damon Runyon-Walter Winchel Cancer Research Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University, Calif.

Areas of expertise: epigenetics, genome-wide mapping studies

Dr. Zhao In the News

September 23, 2013 : Nature Immunology
Expression and regulation of intergenic long noncoding RNAs during T cell development and differentiation
co-authored by Keji Zhao, Ph.D., NHLBI Laboratory of Epigenome Biology
This systems biology study cataloged over 1500 long noncoding RNA molecules (lincRNAs) present in T-cells. The findings reveal that lincRNAs have co-evolved with neighboring protein-coding genes, and provide important clues into the function and regulation of these intriguing molecules.

September 27, 2012
Major cancer protein amplifies global gene expression, NIH study finds
Scientists may have discovered why a protein called MYC can provoke a variety of cancers. Like many proteins associated with cancer, MYC helps regulate cell growth. A study carried out by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and colleagues found that, unlike many other cell growth regulators, MYC does not turn genes on or off, but instead boosts the expression of genes that are already turned on.

View all Dr. Zhao in the news articles