Mei Hong (born 1970) is a Chinese-American biophysical chemist and Professor of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is known for developing and applying solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (ssNMR) spectroscopy to understand the structures and mechanisms of membrane proteins, plant cell walls, and amyloid proteins. Hong is a Fellow of the International Society of Magnetic Resonance (ISMAR) and has received the Founders Medal of International Council on Magnetic Resonance in Biological Systems in 2010 and the Günther Laukien Prize in 2014, which is one of the most prestigious awards in the field of Magnetic Resonance research.
Education and career
Hong grew up in China and completed her bachelor's degree in Chemistry from Mount Holyoke College (summa cum laude) in 1992. She received her Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley under the direction of Alexander Pines in 1996, where she studied phospholipid structure and dynamics using variable-angle-spinning NMR. After a one-year postdoctoral stint in the laboratory of Robert G. Griffin at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she went to University of Massachusetts Amherst and developed biosynthetic isotopic labeling approaches to facilitate protein structure determination by ssNMR. She started an assistant professorship at Iowa State University in 1999, became an associate professor in 2002 and full professor in 2004, and held the first John D. Corbett Professorship from 2007 to 2010. In 2014, she returned to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a professor of chemistry.
Hong's research focuses on elucidating the structure, dynamics and mechanism of membrane proteins using ssNMR. She is particularly known for her study of the Matrix-2 (M2) proteins of influenza A viruses, which are responsible for all flu pandemics in history. M2 is an acid-activated proton channel and a membrane scission protein for the influenza virus. Hong's ssNMR studies have provided insights into the proton-conduction mechanism of this channel, by quantifying the proton transfer rates and equilibria between water and the proton-selective histidine residue. She showed that the antiviral drug amantadine inhibits proton conduction by direct occlusion of the channel pore. She determined the cholesterol-binding structure of the M2 protein, which sheds light on how cholesterol mediates M2's membrane scission function.
Other membrane proteins that Hong's group has studied include β-hairpin antimicrobial peptides, channel-forming colicins, and viral fusion proteins. She determined the structure of the membrane toroidal pores formed by the antimicrobial peptide protegrin-1, which explained the membrane-disruptive mechanism of this peptide. She showed that the transmembrane domain of viral fusion proteins can be structurally plastic, and the β-sheet conformation can correlate with the generation of membrane curvature and membrane dehydration, which are necessary for virus-cell fusion.
Hong has also investigated the structure and dynamics of amyloid proteins, including both neurodegenerative proteins and amyloid fibrils formed by designed peptides. These studies shed light on the origin of structural polymorphism, water interaction, and metal ion binding.
Hong has pioneered the study of plant cell walls using multidimensional ssNMR. These studies revealed the molecular interactions of the polysaccharides in plant cell walls, and helped to revise the conventional model of the primary cell wall structure by proposing a single-network model where cellulose, hemicellulose and pectins all interact with each other. She determined the binding target of the protein expansin to be hemicellulose-enriched regions of cellulose microfibrils, thus giving insight into the mechanism of wall loosening by expansin.
To address these questions, Hong has developed isotopic labeling strategies, multidimensional NMR correlation experiments, polarization transfer techniques, and computational methods for resonance assignment of NMR spectra.
Selected awards and honors
- 2018 Nirit and Michael Shaoul Fellow, Sackler Institute of Advanced Studies, Tel Aviv University
- 2016 Fellow of the International Society of Magnetic Resonance (ISMAR)
- 2014 Günther Laukien Prize, Experimental NMR Conference
- 2012 Protein Society Irving Sigal Young Investigator Award
- 2010 Founders Medal, International Council on Magnetic Resonance in Biological Systems
- 2010 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- 2006 Agnes Fay Morgan Research Award
- 2003 ACS Award in Pure Chemistry
- 2002 Sloan Research Fellow
- 2001 CAREER Award, National Science Foundation
- 1999 Beckman Young Investigator Award