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How immune cells sense their environment

Our research aims to understand how immune cells coordinate input signals from the environment to initiate responses towards a variety of pathogenic stimuli. 

The immune system comprises of a plethora of cell types that form an efficient network to detect invading pathogens as well as tumor cells. Our research is aimed at understanding the signal transduction processes that are involved in the body’s immune defense. On the one hand, we are interested in elucidating how pathogens cause disease despite the presence of a functioning immune system. On the other hand, we aim to understand the processes that underlie immune cell homeostasis and activation by ‘self’ triggers such as occur during autoimmunity.

Hijacking of host immune defense mechanisms by pathogens
Pathogens have evolved elaborate strategies to circumvent host defense mechanisms. We are analyzing those evasion mechanisms used by the pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis, arguably one of the most successful pathogens on earth. We are defining virulence strategies employed by the bacteria as well as analyzing how mycobacteria hijack host cell signal transduction mechanisms to persist.

Signaling, immunity and host responses
In order to be effective against pathogens, the body needs to carefully maintain appropriate numbers of circulating immune cells in peripheral organs such as the spleen, lymph nodes and blood. In addition, these cells need to be kept in a resting, inactive state, also called ‘naïve’, since overt immune cell activation can also cause severe pathologies, including tissue destruction and autoimmunity such as systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, and psoriasis. We aim to decipher the mechanisms involved in immune cell homeostasis, in particular T cells, in order to gain a better understanding of the processes that underlie the maintenance of appropriate numbers of naïve T cells.