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Infection Biology Unit

Infection Biology Unit

The Infection Biology Unit is studying virus-host cell interactions and their contribution to viral spread and pathogenesis in the host.

Many viruses that cause severe diseases in primates are activated by host cell proteases. The responsible enzymes are potential targets for novel antivirals and are in the focus of our research efforts. Our recent studies provide evidence that the cellular protease TMPRSS2 is essential for influenza virus spread in mice and primate respiratory epithelium, and show that TMPRSS2 is used by other viruses to ensure their activation. Therefore, TMPRSS2-inhibitors might exert broad antiviral activity, similar to broadband antibiotics used to treat diverse bacterial infections.

The interferon system constitutes the first barrier against virus infection. A second focus of our studies is on the question how antiviral effector proteins of the interferon system inhibit viral spread and how viruses counter their antiviral activity. To answer this question, we employ siRNA and CRISPR/Cas9 approaches, life cell imaging, viruses with reporter function and ex vivo cultures of primate organs. Moreover, we are conducting, jointly with colleagues at DPZ, genetic analyses in order to reveal whether polymorphisms in genes encoding antiviral effectors impact disease development.

Another goal of the Infection Biology Unit is the diagnostic of viral infections of non-human primates. Transmission of herpes B virus from macaques to humans and transmission of herpes B-related viruses between non-human primates can result in fatal disease. Therefore, the Infection Biology Unit is developing herpes virus diagnostics. In addition, we offer diagnostic tests for several other viral infections, including chip-based antibody detection suitable for screening of non-human primate colonies.

Recent publications summarized in three sentences