Dr. Nihal Altan-Bonnet received her B.A. in biology and chemistry from Hunter College, New York in 1992 and her Ph.D. in cell biology from The Rockefeller University in 1998. She then conducted postdoctoral research with Dr. Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz at the National Institute of Child Health and Development at the NIH from 1999 to 2005 before receiving a faculty position in the department of biological sciences at Rutgers University. In 2013, Dr. Altan-Bonnet returned to the NIH as an Earl Stadtman Investigator, becoming head of the Laboratory of Host-Pathogen Dynamics at the NHLBI. Dr. Altan-Bonnet has been recognized several times for her outstanding early career research, receiving the Young Investigator Award from the Theobald Smith Society of the American Society for Microbiology in 2011, and the Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering (PECASE) in 2012. She is the editor of the open-access journal Cells and is also a member of the American Society for Virology, American Society for Microbiology, and American Society for Cell Biology.
Many human diseases are caused by RNA viruses, which, upon infecting a cell, proceed to remodel the interior membranes of the host cell to create specialized replication factories, termed replication organelles. Dr. Altan-Bonnet strives to identify the common mechanisms by which different RNA viruses generate these specialized replication organelles and to identify shared properties/pathways of these organelles that facilitate viral replication. The identification of host molecules in these pathways that are critical for a wide range of viruses to replicate are attractive therapeutic targets, as a single drug may effectively combat multiple viral diseases.
To understand the dynamic process of viral RNA replication within a host cell, Dr. Altan-Bonnet and her team have implemented a multifaceted approach. They use high-resolution imaging and molecular spectroscopy of various virus and host components, high throughput genetic screening to uncover components required for viral replication, and molecular and biochemical tools to probe protein-protein and protein-lipid interactions.
Through this combined approach, Dr. Altan-Bonnet uncovered that a host cell enzyme, Phosphatidylinositol 4 kinase (PI4K), is involved in the infection process for multiple types of human RNA viruses including Poliovirus, Coxsackievirus, and Hepatitis C Virus. These different viruses hijack PI4K in order to produce enriched levels of the lipid phosphatidylinositide -4-phosphate (PI4P). This PI4P is then used to generate a membrane-based platform critical for the replication process. Other recent research by her group has found additional viruses employing the PI4P replication platform, including those responsible for the common cold. Dr. Altan-Bonnet has been working with industry partners to design drugs targeting PI4K, while concurrently pursuing further fundamental studies to identify the mechanisms by which lipids regulate viral replication. Her laboratory is also continuing to look for new host therapeutic targets that might form the basis of effective pan-viral drugs.