Not everything in life is sh#$%: how enteric viruses transmit

Monday, May 23, 2022 - 11:00 am to 12:00 pm
Event sponsor
Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI) & Gladstone Institutes
students, staff, faculty, alumni, local science community

The QBI & Gladstone Institute Infectious Disease and Human Health Seminar Series presents Dr. Nihal Altan-Bonnet, Head of the Laboratory of Host-Pathogen Dynamics at the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, USA.

Much of the field of virology has long viewed the cell as a passive supplier of viral building blocks and focused on how viruses exploit individual cellular enzymes for transcription of their messenger RNAs or translation of the viral proteins. Dr. Nihal Altan-Bonnet using the dynamic tools of live-cell microscopy has made fundamental discoveries, revealing how viral exploitation of the host goes beyond individual molecules and rather induces a complete shake up of cell physiology and architecture.

As an outsider with a background in cellular biology and biophysics, she came into the field of virology without any allegiance to a particular virus- something unusual in this field as most virologists focus on the study of one virus. Instead, she intentionally sought to study a wide variety of different viruses to search for general principles and common strategies viruses employ to exploit the host cell.

This broader approach resulted in several groundbreaking discoveries. The first of which was the discovery that many viruses alter the host lipid metabolism to assemble viral replication platforms. Specifically, Nihal showed that a host encoded lipid kinase, phosphatidyl inositol 4-kinase, was hijacked by multiple different RNA viruses (including poliovirus, hepatitis C, Enterovirus D68, Rhinovirus) to generate PI4P lipid enriched replication compartments where PI4P was a co-factor for viral replication enzymes. The second was the identification of a new form of viral infectious unit: viruses traveling en masse, cloaked inside vesicles. She revealed that this form of transmission was much more infectious and virulent than viruses as single particles.

More recently Nihal has applied her imaging skills to peer inside coronavirus infected cells and reveal how these viruses exit from cells and spread to others- an area that has remarkably not been studied. She has discovered that coronaviruses are unique in that they piggy-back on an unusual cellular pathway, lysosomal exocytosis, to exit from the cells and in the process fundamentally alter lysosomal functions including antigen presentation.

Nihal received her Ph.D. in Cellular Biophysics from Sandy Simon’s lab at The Rockefeller University in New York City and did her post-doctoral studies with Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz at NIH. She has been recognized for her research with election as Fellow to the American Academy of Microbiology, Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering (PECASE), Kavli fellowship, Scialog fellowship, the Norman P. Salzman Memorial Award in Virology and selected as the John J. Holland Lecturer by the American Society of Virology.