Experimental Infection Research
Most infections cause highly variable disease courses amongst different individuals. This is due to a plethora of pathogen- and host-associated determinants as well as environmental factors that affect pathogen transmission and replication as well as inflammatory host responses. The complexity of the immune system and sophisticated evasion strategies of the pathogen impede a more comprehensive understanding of pathogenesis in humans. Nevertheless, a detailed mechanistic understanding of the pathogenesis is needed to develop improved diagnostics as well as new preventive and therapeutic interventions. Therefore, the Institute for Experimental Infection Research focuses on three major research activities, (i) analysis of viral pathogenesis, (ii) development of innovative interventions, and (iii) identification of biomarkers in infectious diseases.
In order to study pathogen host interactions we make use of innovative mouse models as well as human blood and tissue samples from healthy individuals and patients. To better understand viral pathogenesis in humans we perform observational clinical trials. We focus specifically on early events in the immune response to identify checkpoints that define the balance between pathogen control and tissue destruction. Thereby, the analysis of individuals with enhanced vulnerability to infection such as patients with autoinflammatory diseases and immunosuppressed patients are of particular interest.
Specifically, we aim for an improved understanding of how early anti-viral responses, including type I interferons, are induced in the host, what impact these responses have on the orchestration of anti-viral immunity, and how the overall disease outcome is affected. One important activity is to understand the relative contribution of immune cells and tissue cells to the production of protective type I interferon and how tissue cells shape the immune responses. To unravel general principles of immune protection we focus on the analysis of processes underlying infection-associated tissue inflammation, including hepatitis and encephalitis. We study human viruses such as herpesviruses with a special emphasis on human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) and herpes simplex virus (HSV) as well as murine model viruses such as vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) and mouse cytomegalovirus (MCMV).