Donna Zhang

Donna Zhang,

Dr. Herbert A. Wertheim Professor

Business Phone: (561) 228-2560
Business Email:

About Donna Zhang

Dr. Donna D. Zhang, Ph.D., is a distinguished molecular toxicologist renowned for her groundbreaking research in understanding the mechanisms underlying various diseases and developing innovative therapeutic strategies. She earned her Ph.D. in Molecular Toxicology from New York University’s Nelson Institute of Environmental Medicine in 1997, focusing on the identification and characterization of the novel gene Cap43 induced by Ni2+ compounds. Throughout her illustrious career, she has held several esteemed academic positions, including her current role as the Dr. Herbert A. Wertheim Professor at the Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology at the University of Florida. Prior to this, Dr. Zhang served as the Musil Family Endowed Chair in Drug Discovery at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Arizona, where she made significant contributions to the field through her research and teaching.

With a passion for education and mentorship, Dr. Zhang has made significant contributions to the field through her teaching and supervision of Ph.D. students. She has developed and coordinated various courses in pharmacology and toxicology, shaping the next generation of scientists and pharmacists. Additionally, she actively engages in service and outreach activities both within her institution and externally, serving on numerous committees and review panels for prestigious organizations such as NIH and the Society of Toxicology. Dr. Zhang’s dedication to advancing scientific knowledge and her commitment to training future leaders in the field underscore her invaluable contributions to the scientific community.


The 2024 Leading Edge in Basic Science Award at the 63rd Annual SOT meeting
2024 · SOT
The Distinguished Chinese American Toxicologist Award, AACT, Society of Toxicology
2023 · AACT, Society of Toxicology
Dr. James R. Halpert Faculty Research Award
2019 · University of Arizona
Centennial Top 100 Alumni Achievement Hall of Fame of Ningbo Xiaoshi High School, Ningbo, China. (Alumni: Tu Youyou, 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine)
2013 · Ningbo Xiaoshi High School
The Society of Toxicology Achievement Award
2012 · The Society of Toxicology

Research Profile

My research endeavors explore the intricate mechanisms of NRF2 redox biology, the pathogenesis of arsenic, and the development of preclinical drugs targeting NRF2. The goal is to leverage the body’s own defense systems, particularly the NRF2 pathway, to combat human diseases. NRF2, a pivotal transcription factor, orchestrates the cellular defense against environmental insults by regulating genes critical for maintaining redox and metabolic homeostasis.

Since NRF2’s discovery, it has been championed for its protective role against oxidative stress. Nonetheless, research from my laboratory has exposed its paradoxical role in cancer progression and therapy resistance. Our recent pioneering work has linked NRF2 high expression in certain cancers to enhanced survival and resistance to a new class of cell death, ferroptosis. These studies have significant implications, as NRF2 inhibition could transform therapeutic approaches for treatment-resistant cancers.

Additionally, my team’s research has implicated persistent NRF2 activation in the carcinogenic and diabetogenic effects of arsenic, a notorious environmental toxin affecting millions globally. This has set the stage for the development of specific NRF2 inhibitors, a yet unmet need in the field, to dissect NRF2’s detrimental roles in disease.

In summary, my lab’s efforts are directed towards: Unraveling the NRF2 signaling network. Deciphering NRF2 dysregulation in arsenic-induced carcinogenesis and diabetes. Developing NRF2-centric therapeutic strategies, including small molecules and nanobodies. Investigating the molecular biology of the CNC family proteins (NRF1, NRF2, and NRF3). The ultimate aim is to mitigate the impact of diseases exacerbated by environmental factors like arsenic, through innovative NRF2-targeted interventions.

Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID)


Areas of Interest
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Ferroptosis
  • NRF2
  • NRF2-Keap-ARE pathway
  • arsenic toxicity
  • autophagy
  • redox biology


Decreased autophagosome biogenesis, reduced NRF2, and enhanced ferroptotic cell death are underlying molecular mechanisms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Redox biology. 59 [DOI] 10.1016/j.redox.2022.102570. [PMID] 36495698.
NRF2 controls iron homeostasis and ferroptosis through HERC2 and VAMP8.
Science advances. 9(5) [DOI] 10.1126/sciadv.ade9585. [PMID] 36724221.
The NRF2-p97-NRF2 negative feedback loop.
Redox biology. 65 [DOI] 10.1016/j.redox.2023.102839. [PMID] 37573837.
CHML is an NRF2 target gene that regulates mTOR function.
Molecular oncology. 16(8):1714-1727 [DOI] 10.1002/1878-0261.13194. [PMID] 35184380.
Non-canonical NRF2 activation promotes a pro-diabetic shift in hepatic glucose metabolism.
Molecular metabolism. 51 [DOI] 10.1016/j.molmet.2021.101243. [PMID] 33933676.
NRF2 negatively regulates primary ciliogenesis and hedgehog signaling.
PLoS biology. 18(2) [DOI] 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000620. [PMID] 32053600.
Uremic toxins promote accumulation of oxidized protein and increased sensitivity to hydrogen peroxide in endothelial cells by impairing the autophagic flux.
Biochemical and biophysical research communications. 523(1):123-129 [DOI] 10.1016/j.bbrc.2019.12.022. [PMID] 31837804.
Spermidine Confers Liver Protection by Enhancing NRF2 Signaling Through a MAP1S-Mediated Noncanonical Mechanism.
Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.). 70(1):372-388 [DOI] 10.1002/hep.30616. [PMID] 30873635.
Increased O-GlcNAcylation of SNAP29 Drives Arsenic-Induced Autophagic Dysfunction.
Molecular and cellular biology. 38(11) [DOI] 10.1128/MCB.00595-17. [PMID] 29507186.
NRF2 and the Hallmarks of Cancer.
Cancer cell. 34(1):21-43 [DOI] 10.1016/j.ccell.2018.03.022. [PMID] 29731393.
RPA1 binding to NRF2 switches ARE-dependent transcriptional activation to ARE-NRE-dependent repression.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 115(44):E10352-E10361 [DOI] 10.1073/pnas.1812125115. [PMID] 30309964.


Ph.D. in Molecular Toxicology
1997 · New York University, Nelson Institute of Environmental Medicine, New York, New York.
M.S. in Molecular Toxicology
1993 · New York University, Nelson Institute of Environmental Medicine, New York, New York.

Contact Details

(561) 228-2560
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