Alex Compton, Ph.D.

Alex Compton, Ph.D.

  • Center for Cancer Research
  • National Cancer Institute


Work in the Antiviral Immunity and Resistance Section, led by Alex Compton, Ph.D., is guided by integrative approaches combining experimental virology, cell biology, and evolutionary biology to reveal dynamic host-virus interactions important for public health.  A focus is placed on mechanisms of host protection mediated by the cell-intrinsic innate immune response, as well as the strategies employed by HIV and emerging viruses to evade or overcome these immune barriers.

Areas of Expertise

Innate Immunity
Molecular Biology
Host-Pathogen Interactions
Virus Evolution


Selected Key Publications

Rapalogs downmodulate intrinsic immunity and promote cell entry of SARS-CoV-2

Shi G, Chiramel AI, Li T, Lai KK, Kenney AD, Zani A, Eddy AC, Majdoul S, Zhang L, Dempsey T, Beare PA, Kar S, Yewdell JW, Best SM, Yount JS, Compton AA
J Clin Invest. 2022.
Full-Text Article

mTOR inhibitors lower an intrinsic barrier to virus infection mediated by IFITM3

Shi G, Ozog S, Torbett BE, Compton AA
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018.
Full-Text Article


DRP Think Tank Travel Award

Abbie Jolley, postbac in the Compton Lab, was selected to received a travel award in recognition of her excellent talk delivered at the DRP Think Tank meeting in 2023. Congrats, Abbie!

Discovery in Compton Lab featured in NIH Catalyst Magazine

Work published by first author Scarlett Shi in Journal of Clinical Investigation entitled "Rapalogs downmodulate intrinsic immunity and promote cell entry of SARS-CoV-2" was featured as a Research Brief in NIH Catalyst Magazine in January 2023. Read the coverage here.

diagram of rapalog movement into a cell

Recent Editorial Appointments for Alex Compton

Alex Compton was recently appointed to the following editorial positions:

  • Guest Editor, Viruses Special Issue on "Interferon-Induced Transmembrane Proteins," 2023
  • Associate Editor, Frontiers in Virology, 2021
  • Guest Editor, Journal of Molecular Biology Special Issue on “Antiviral Innate Immunity,” 2021
  • Editorial Board Member, Viruses, 2020
  • Editorial Advisory Board Member, Review Commons (European Molecular Biology Organization), 2020 

NIH Fellows Awards for Research Excellence

NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE) was granted to Kazi Rahman in 2022, Charles (Chad) Coomer in 2021 and 2019, and Scarlett (Guoli) Shi in 2018. These awards, which acknowledge outstanding scientific research performed by intramural postdoctoral fellows or graduate students, are based on scientific merit, originality, experimental design, and overall quality and presentation of the abstracts.

NIH Graduate Student Research Award

Charles (Chad) Coomer received an NIH Graduate Student Research Award for his presentation on “The Functional Relationship between Antiviral Restriction Factor IFITM3 and Cellular Cholesterol Homeostasis” at the 2020 NIH Graduate Student Research Symposium: Faces of Tomorrow’s Science.

NIH Intramural Targeted Anti-COVID-19 Program Award

Alex Compton received an NIH Intramural Targeted Anti-COVID-19 (ITAC) Program Award in 2020 to support his research project on “Deciphering the Double-Edged Role of IFITM3 During SARS-CoV-2 Infection.”  ITAC awards are administered by the NIH Office of Intramural Research to provide intramural investigators with up to 2 years of funding for research into understanding and/or combatting COVID-19. Of the 159 applicants for this competitive funding, Dr. Compton was among the 40 investigators who received awards.

NIH Intramural AIDS Research Fellowship

Charles (Chad) Coomer received an Intramural AIDS Research Fellowship (IARF) in 2020 to support his research project on "Revealing the Mechanism IFITM3-Mediated Inhibition of HIV-1 Envelope Using Advanced Fluorescence and Super-Resolution Microscopy."  Awarded by the Office of AIDS Research, Office of Intramural Research, and Office of Intramural Research & Training in the National Institutes of Health, IARFs include full stipend support to successful candidates who demonstrate outstanding scientific potential through both an imaginative and thoughtful research plan and a well thought out career development plan.

Sallie Rosen Kaplan Postdoctoral Fellowship for Women Scientists

Saliha Majdoul (1st on left in photo below) was awarded a 2020 Sallie Rosen Kaplan (SRK) Postdoctoral Fellowship for Women Scientists at the National Cancer Institute.  The SRK Fellowship is a highly competitive annual program that provides additional mentoring opportunities, networking, seminars, and workshops to help prepare NCI’s female postdoctoral fellows for the competitive nature of the job market and help them to transition to independent research careers.  The highlight of this selective program is a 30-week course entitled "Career Building for Women in Science," which includes two day-long workshops.  The SRK Fellowship also includes mentoring opportunities with successful women scientists from government, industry, and academia.


Sallie Rosen Kaplan Fellows 2020
2020 Sallie Rosen Kaplan Fellows

Larger photo

Interview with Compton and Rein Labs in NCI-Frederick Poster 

[The following excerpt is from the article "Two Teams, One Lab, One Partnership to Find Vulnerabilities in Viruses," published by Samuel Lopez in the NCI at Frederick Poster, 29 June 2020.]

Figure and caption from NCI-Frederick Poster article "Two Teams, One Lab, One Partnership to Find Vulnerabilities in Viruses," 29 June 2020

Sharing a lab with another team may sound like an inconvenience to some, like the professional equivalent of sharing a bedroom with a sibling.

But not for Alex Compton, Ph.D.; Alan Rein, Ph.D.; and their colleagues. In their case, sharing a lab led to a rich collaboration, mentoring opportunities, and a study that uncovered facets of how cells interact with viruses.

The partnership began nearly three years ago, when Compton joined the HIV Dynamics and Replication Program at NCI at Frederick as head of the Antiviral Immunity and Resistance Section. His small team was given space in a laboratory partially occupied by Rein’s team, the Retrovirus Assembly Section. Soon, the scientists were sharing ideas and asking questions that required their combined expertise to answer.

“[My team and I] were working on aspects of IFITM function and basic questions. [Alan] simply asked whether they could inhibit [murine leukemia virus], as that happens to be his favorite virus model,” Compton said.

While simple, the question had far-reaching implications for scientists’ understanding of how viruses infect cells and spread in a host. IFITM (interferon-induced transmembrane) is a group of proteins that hinder viral infections in human and animal cells, a sort of cellular immune system. Murine leukemia virus (MLV) is a retrovirus, like HIV and human T-cell lymphotropic virus, that causes leukemia in mice by establishing long-term infections that dodge the mice’s natural defenses.

Read more

Collaborative Project Award, National Interagency Confederation for Biomedical Research

Alex Compton received a Collaborative Project Award from the National Interagency Confederation for Biomedical Research (NICBR) in 2018 to support his project on “Understanding the Mechanism of IFITM-Mediated Restriction of Virus Infection Through Its Interaction with ZMPSTE24.”  A consortium of Federal research partners, the NICBR includes elements of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense, Agriculture, and Homeland Security.