Syng-Ook Lee

Syng-Ook Lee

Assistant Professor

Center for Environmental and Genetic Medicine
2121 W. Holcombe Blvd.
Houston, TX   77030

Phone: 713-677-7668

Education and Training

Dr. Lee earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Food Science and Technology at Keimyung University in Daegu, Republic of Korea.  He received his Ph.D. degree in Food Science and Technology (Functional Food Science) in 2006 at Keimyung University.  He was a postdoctoral fellow (2007-2009), Assistant Research Scientist (2009-2013) and appointed as an Assistant Professor in 2013 in the Center for Environmental and Genetic Medicine, Institute of Biosciences and Technology, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, Houston, Texas.  He holds a joint appointment as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center, College Station, Texas.

Research Interests

Dr. Lee’s research is primarily focused on the molecular biology of NR4A orphan nuclear receptors in cancer cells and the development of new mechanism-based drugs targeting NR4As for treatment of pancreatic, lung and other cancers.  

The nuclear receptor (NR) superfamily are critical regulators of homeostasis at all stages of development, and many of these receptors are important drug targets for treating multiple diseases including cancer.  Selective nuclear receptor modulators including ligands that activate retinoid X receptors, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ) and estrogen receptor (ER) have been developed as mechanism-based drugs for treatment of multiple cancers.  For example, the selective ER modulator tamoxifen is one of the most widely used anticancer drugs for treatment of hormone-dependent early stage breast cancer.  

There is recent evidence showing that the nuclear receptor NR4A1 is overexpressed and exhibits pro-oncogenic activity in multiple tumors and his recent studies show that NR4A1 is a negative prognostic factor for lung cancer patient survival.  Therefore, NR4A1 might not only be a novel therapeutic target for cancer, but also serve as a novel biomarker for early stages of cancer formation and used for early diagnosis.  His research has primarily focused on understanding the pro-oncogenic functions of this nuclear receptor in cancer which will provide the necessary mechanistic insights required for development of NR4A1 antagonists for treatment of cancer and for the use of NR4A1 as a diagnostic and prognostic biomarker.  

His recent studies have identified a series of methylene (C)-substituted DIM analogs (C-DIMs) that bind to NR4A1 and inactivate multiple pro-oncogenic NR4A1-regulated genes and pathways in various cancers in vitro and in vivo.  C-DIMs are the first nuclear NR4A1 antagonists and the overall mechanism of action of C-DIMs and their application for cancer chemotherapy is currently being investigated.  This research is critical for his long-term goal of future development of NR4A1 antagonists as new mechanism-based therapeutics for clinical treatment of multiple cancers overexpressing NR4A1.

Recent Publications

S Safe, SO Lee and UH Jin. Role of the Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor in Carcinogenesis and Potential as a Drug Target. Toxicological Sciences 2013, Jul 5. [Epub ahead of print].

SO Lee, T Andey, UH Jin, K Kim, M Sachdeva, S Safe. The nuclear receptor TR3 regulates mTOR signaling in lung cancer cells expressing wild-type p53. Oncogene 2012;32(27):3310-3321.

X Li, SO Lee, S Safe. Structure-dependent activation of NR4A2 (Nurr1) by 1,1-bis(3'-indolyl)-1-(aromatic)methane analogs in pancreatic cancer cells. Biochemical Pharmacology 2012;83(10):1445-1455.

K Kim, G Chadalapaka, SO Lee, D Yamada, X Sastre-Garau, PA Defossez, YY Park, JS Lee, S Safe. MicroRNA-17-92 regulates ZBTB4, a repressor of specificity protein (Sp) transcription factors in breast cancer. Oncogene 2012;31(8):1034-1044.

K Yoon*, SO Lee*, SD Cho, K Kim, S Khan, S Safe. Activation of nuclear TR3 (NR4A1) by a diindolylmethane analog induces apoptosis and proapoptotic genes in pancreatic cancer cells and tumors. Carcinogenesis 2011;32(6):836-842 (*equal contribution).

SO Lee, X Li, S Khan, S Safe. Targeting NR4A1 (TR3) in cancer cells and tumors. Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Targets 2011;15(2):195-206.

S Safe, K Kim, X Li, SO Lee. NR4A orphan receptors and cancer. The Open Access Journal of the Nuclear Receptor Signaling Atlas 2011;9:e002.

SO Lee, M Abdelrahim, K Yoon, S Chintharlapalli, S Papineni, KH Kim, et al.  Inactivation of the orphan nuclear receptor NR4A1 (TR3/Nur77) inhibits pancreatic cancer cell and tumor growth.  Cancer Research 2010;70(17):6824-6836.

SD Cho*, SO Lee*, S Chintharlapalli, M Abdelrahim, S Khan, K Yoon, AM Kamat, S Safe. Activation of nerve growth factor-induced Bα by methylene-substituted diindolylmethanes in bladder cancer cells induces apoptosis and inhibits tumor growth. Molecular Pharmacology 2010;77(3):396-404 (*equal contribution).

SO Lee, S Chintharlapalli, S Liu, S Papineni, SD Cho, K Yoon, S Safe. p21 expression is induced by activation of nuclear nerve growth factor-induced Bα (NGFI-Bα, Nur77) in pancreatic cancer cells. Molecular Cancer Research 2009;7:1169-1178.


Selected Publications Prior to 2008

SO Lee, YJ Jeong, MH Kim, CH Kim, and IS Lee. Suppression of PMA-induced tumor cell invasion by capillarisin via the inhibition of NF-κB-dependent MMP-9 expression. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 2008; 366:1019-1024.

SO Lee, YC Chang, K Whang, CH Kim and IS Lee. Role of NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase 1 on tumor necrosis factor-α-induced migration of human vascular smooth muscle cells. Cardiovascular Research 2007;76:331-339.

SO Lee, YJ Jeong, MH Yu, JW Lee, MH Hwangbo, CH Kim and IS Lee. Wogonin suppresses TNF-α-induced MMP-9 expression by blocking the NF-κB activation via MAPK signaling pathways in human aortic smooth muscle cells. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 2006;351:118-125.

SO Lee, HW Lee, IS Lee, and HG Im. The pharmacological potential of Sorbus commixta cortex on blood alcohol concentration and hepatic lipid peroxidation in acute alcohol-treated rats. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 2006; 58:685-693.

SO Lee, SK Chung, and IS Lee. The antidiabetic effect of dietary persimmon (Diospyros kaki L. cv. Sangjudungsi) peel in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Journal of Food Science 2006;71(3):S293-S298.