PD Dr. Christina Ehrhardt
Institut für Molekulare Virologie
phone: +49 251 8353010
fax: + +49 251 8357793
e-mail: ehrhardc at uni-muenster.de
Our research subject:
Influenza A viruses (IAV) are the causative agents for severe respiratory diseases resulting in significant morbidity and mortality worldwide. The appearance of human isolates of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus strains H5N1, H7N9 or the emergence of the influenza pandemic derived from swine-origin influenza viruses (H1N1v) still demonstrate the threat of humans by these pathogens.
Secondary bacterial infection is a common complication during influenza, often leading to severe pneumonia. Typical bacterial species isolated from patients with secondary infections are common colonizer of the nasopharynx, such as Staphyloccocus aureus. Given the enormous socio-economic burden caused by IAV and bacterial co-infection, it is mandatory to unravel the underlying disease mechanisms. Descriptive data from clinical studies and animal models have improved our understanding of how co-pathogenesis between IAV and bacteria might occur. One hallmark of severe infection is the dysregulation in immune responses accompanied by increased cytokine and chemokine expression, detrimental inflammation, and enhanced pathogen load. It is well established that pathogen replication and host cytokine responses are controlled by pathogen-regulated signaling events. Nonetheless, the complex interplay of pathogen-pathogen and pathogen-host interactions that affect cellular regulatory mechanisms is only in part understood. An additional challenging problem concerns the diversity of virulence factors of IAV and bacteria that are expressed in a strain-specific manner. Specifically, virulence factors of IAV have been discussed to facilitate bacteria to cause disease, but also bacterial virulence factors do their utmost to infection.
Since many years our research focus is on virus-host interaction on a molecular level. We do not only investigate virus-supportive and antiviral cellular signaling mechanisms, but also virulence factors of the virus that manipulate cellular functions. Furthermore, our novel projects aim to unravel basic molecular-biological principles that underlie the establishment, dynamics and functional complexity of IAV and bacterial co-infections in cells and animals. Within these studies we aim to characterize virulence factors of both pathogens, regulating cellular signaling processes, immune responses, inflammation and pathogen replication, to unravel markers for severity of disease and novel targets for anti-pathogen therapy.