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Rajini Rao, PhD

Department Affiliations Physiology
Rank Professor
Office Phone 410-955-4732
Lab Phone
Fax 410-955-0462
SOM Address Room 201 Wood Basic Science Building



Christopher Brett 1999 – 2005

Anniesha Hack 2005 – 2013

Hari Prasad 2011
Donna Dang 2012
Myungjun Ko 2014

Research Interests

The Rao laboratory studies the role of novel ion transporters in human health and disease. One project focuses on calcium signaling in breast cancer. We showed that an isoform of the secretory pathway Ca2+-ATPase, SPCA2, interacts with ion channels to drive tumor proliferation. We are currently investigating how downregulation of SPCA2 promotes epithelial to mesenchymal transition. A second project relates to the endosomal Na+/H+ exchangers NHE6 and NHE9, linked to autism, Christianson syndrome, ADHD and a growing list of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders. We use a powerful PheWAS approach combined with model structure-driven evolutionary conservation analysis and functional screening of human variants to identify, evaluate and predict causality of autism-associated mutations. Loss of eNHE function results in hyperacidic endosomes, which increases amyloidogenic processing, and turnover of cell surface receptors and neurotransmitter transporters to impact neurotransmitter uptake and synaptic development. On the other hand, overexpression of NHE9 in glioblastoma confers chemoradiation resistance due to “inside out” control of oncogenic signaling. Our lab also discovered NHA2, an unusual Na+/H+ exchanger that is implicated in essential hypertension and plays a role in salt handling in the kidney. We make extensive use of 3D/organoid cultures, confocal microscopy, live cell calcium and pH imaging, and phenotype complementation in yeast to investigate mammalian transport proteins.


Research Profile

  • Feng, M., Grice, D., Faddy, H.M., Ngyuen, N., Leitch, S., Wang, Y., Muend, S., Kenny, P.A., Sukumar, S., Roberts-Thomson, S., Monteith, G., and Rao, R. (2010). Store-independent activation of Orai1 by SPCA2 in mammary tumors. Cell 143:84-98 PMID 20887894
  • Kondapalli, KC, Hack A, Schushan M, Landau, M, Ben-Tal N and Rao R. (2013) Functional evaluation of autism associated mutations in NHE9. Nat. Commun. 4:2510. doi: 10.1038/ncomms3510 PMID 24065030
  • Prasad, H. and Rao, R. (2015) The Na+/H+ exchanger NHE6 modulates endosomal pH to control processing of amyloid precursor protein in a cell culture model of Alzheimer Disease. J. Biol. Chem. 290: 5311-27 PMID 25561733
  • Kondapalli, K.C., Llongueras, J.P., Capilla-Gonzalez, V., Hack, A., Smith, C., Guerrero-Cazares, H., Quinones-Hinojosa, A., and Rao, R. (2015) A leak pathway for luminal protons in endosomes drives oncogenic signaling in glioblastoma. Nat. Commun. 6, 6289. doi: 10.1038/ncomms7289 PMID 25662504