Melanie A. Brunet
Cohort: 2020

Influenza is an infectious virus that causes a potentially life-threatening respiratory tract infection known as the flu. Each year, three to five million people suffer severe cases of influenza, and around 300,000 to 650,000 people die from it worldwide. Because influenza viruses have much higher mutation rates that the host cell, antiviral therapeutics that target the host cell components needed for viral infection could reduce antiviral resistance. Sphingolipids and cholesterol are potential targets because influenza A virus infectivity is correlated with their abundances in the host cell. Because of this, a better understanding of the functions of these distinct membrane components during influenza virus infection as well as normal cell function could enable development of more effective anti-flu therapeutics. My research aims to provide new insight into the roles of cholesterol and sphingolipids by utilizing experimental strategies for imaging membrane lipids and proteins on and within cells with high-resolution and molecular dynamic simulations of influenza’s fusion peptide insertion into cell membranes, respectively. These studies may shed light on the key mechanisms and pathways that influenza needs for viral infectivity, which may facilitate the development of new antiviral therapeutics that target host sphingolipids or cholesterol.