The research of the Infection Biology Unit is focussed on virus host cell interactions, with particular emphasis on the first step of the viral replication cycle: entry into target cells. To gain access to target cells, enveloped viruses evolved specialized membrane proteins, which mediate attachment to host cells and drive fusion of the viral envelope with a host cell membrane. This process is indispensable for delivery of the viral genetic information into the cellular lumen and constitutes an attractive target for therapeutic intervention.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the causative agent of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a major global health crisis, and is in the focus of our studies. We are interested in understanding how HIV capture by lectins on immune cells modulates viral spread in and between individuals. In addition, we are characterizing inhibitors targeting assembly of HIV in infected cells and we are pursuing novel approaches to vaccine design. Finally, we seek to elucidate how cellular restriction factors, like the recently identified tetherin protein, restrict HIV spread and how HIV counteracts this restriction. Several of these questions will be addressed by employing simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) infection of macaques as model system for HIV infection of humans.
A second focus of the unit is on emerging and re-emerging viruses, including SARS-coronavirus, Influenza viruses and Ebola virus. We are particularly interested in the proteolytic activation of these viruses and their inhibition by effector molecules of the innate immune system.