Research Areas

Antiviral cellular immune responses

The human immune system plays a central role in the control of viral infections. In particular, T cells and NK cells can recognize and kill virus-infected cells. The research department of Prof. Dr. Altfeld examines antiviral T cell and NK cell responses against several viruses, including HIV-1, HCV, and Influenza. In particular, we aim to characterize the pathways by which the immune system recognizes viral infections, and the mechanisms that viruses have developed to evade antiviral immunity. In addition, we have developed in vitro models to analyze the interplay of innate and adaptive immune responses during the course of a viral infection. The aim of these studies is to identify protective immune responses that can be subsequently induced through new vaccination strategies or immunotherapeutic approaches.

Virus detection and immune activation

Human pathogenic viruses can be detected by a number of receptors of the immune system. Cells of the innate immune system express receptors that can identify components of viruses as foreign, and initiate the subsequent antiviral immune response. While activation of innate immunity plays an important role in the initial control of acute viral infections, a persistent activation of the immune system in chronic viral infections (HIV -1, HCV) contributes to viral pathogenesis and pathology (CD4 T cell decline, liver fibrosis). The research department of Prof. Dr. Altfeld investigates the extracellular and intracellular receptors and signaling cascades that lead to the detection of viruses. A particular area of interest is the analysis of Toll-like Receptors (TLRs) and their influence on the pathogenesis of viral infections. Another area of research are the effects of sex hormones on antiviral immunity, and the resulting implications for gender differences in the disease manifestations of viral infections. The aim of these studies is to develop a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of viral pathogenesis and to develop new immune-modulatory approaches that can reduce persistent immune activation during chronic viral infections.

Close-up of viruses

Microscopic images: Intestinal biopsy (left, ©F. Flomm & A. Niehrs) & cross-section of a human intestinal organoid (right, ©J. Jung & J. Bosse)


Anja Lindemann

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