Denise Cai, PhD
img_Denise Cai
Multi-Disciplinary Training Area
Neuroscience [NEU]
If we live long enough, will our brains one day simply “max out” and run out of room, and if not, why not? Are memories formed and stored differently in the brain as we age? How does the way in which memories are linked over time affect what we remember? What role does sleep play in linking memories across time?

These are some of the captivating—and complex— questions about learning and memory we’re exploring in our lab. We use a multi-level approach integrating molecular, cellular, circuit-level, and behavioral techniques to investigate the dynamic nature of memory. Our primary research themes include memory capacity, temporal memory-linking, and sleep and memory. We’re studying the strategies the brain uses to optimize its capacity for storage; how prior learning influences future behavior; and why emotions may alter memories while we sleep. Building and sharing novel tools and technologies to help answer these and evolving questions in neuroscience is an exciting part of our lab’s work. We’re passionate about the open-source movement and committed to building a collaborative and generous neuroscience community.
Behavior, In Vivo Imaging, Learning & Memory, Cognitive Disorders, Hippocampus, Age-related Cognitive Deficits, Anxiety-related Disorders, Optogenetics, Chemogenetics, Activity-dependent Tagging

PhD, University of California, San Diego


Friedman Brain Institute Scholar Award


American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Member


Irma T. Hirschl/Monique Weill-Caulier Research Award


Mount Sinai Distinguished Scholar Award

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai


Optogenetics GRC, Vice Chair, 2020 and Chair, 2022


NIMH Research Grant (R01)



NIH Director’s New Innovator Award (DP2)


McKnight Memory and Cognitive Disorder Award


NARSAD Young Investigator Award


Brain Research Foundation Award


Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Award


Friedman Brain Scholar Award


Outstanding Teaching Award

Icahn School of Medicince at Mount Sinai


Botanical Center Pilot Award


Allen Institute Next Generation Leader


One Mind Otsuka Rising Star Award

Physicians and scientists on the faculty of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai often interact with pharmaceutical, device and biotechnology companies to improve patient care, develop new therapies and achieve scientific breakthroughs. In order to promote an ethical and transparent environment for conducting research, providing clinical care and teaching, Mount Sinai requires that salaried faculty inform the School of their relationships with such companies.

Dr. Cai did not report having any of the following types of financial relationships with industry during 2022 and/or 2023: consulting, scientific advisory board, industry-sponsored lectures, service on Board of Directors, participation on industry-sponsored committees, equity ownership valued at greater than 5% of a publicly traded company or any value in a privately held company. Please note that this information may differ from information posted on corporate sites due to timing or classification differences.

Mount Sinai's faculty policies relating to faculty collaboration with industry are posted on our website. Patients may wish to ask their physician about the activities they perform for companies.