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Insight into inflammatory diseases – understanding the molecular mechanisms during the onset and resolution of inflammation

The immune system is the body's natural defence system that protects against invading germs and prevents disease development. For its optimal function the immune system must recognize a wide variety of damaging agents, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites but also other harmful substances from the environment. Our immune system is divided into two main subsystems, the innate the adaptive immunity. Throughout the first hours and days of exposure to microbes the innate immunity is the key branch of the immune system that contends against pathogens. It restricts and eliminates infections or other initial causes of cell injury by inducing and resolving inflammation. Tight regulation of the innate immunity is essential to ensure an efficient defence against invading pathogens and to control inflammatory processes. Imbalances in activation or resolution of inflammatory processes might have dramatic outcomes by driving the development of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases but also cancer development. To date, there are no potent therapeutic strategies available to cure these disorders and further research is required to understand innate immune regulatory mechanisms driving disease development.

My research aims to understand the regulation of pattern-recognition receptors – a hallmark of the innate immunity. These receptors recognize microbial compounds or molecules that are released from damaged tissue. Receptor activation triggers an induction of inflammatory mediators, which orchestrate the destruction of invasive microbes. Among the key inflammatory processes activated upon infection is the formation of a multiprotein complex called inflammasome. Inflammasomes play a vital role in the secretion of particular inflammatory mediators such as members of the interleucin-1 family that help to recruit immune cells to sites of infection and inflammation. If dysregulated, inflammasomes often contribute to the development of inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis and reduced pathogen clearance with dramatic outcomes showing the importance of the in-depth analysis of these regulatory mechanisms.

My research group is focusing on the identification of new molecules in innate immunity - in particular inflammasome regulation. Using state-of-the-art tools in cell and molecular biology and genetics we aim to uncover new key players in inflammasome regulation and to identify the underlying molecular mechanisms by which these molecules modulate innate immunity during infection and inflammation. We are interested in gaining knowledge of basic molecular mechanisms that might be dysregulated during disease progression. In addition, by applying different in vivo models of infection and inflammation, our research will extend the present knowledge of the physiological relevance of these newly identified molecules. Together, this will provide new target molecules for therapeutic treatments of infectious and inflammation-driven diseases.

If you are interested in joining the team as an undergraduate student or post-doc, please send me a short letter of motivation and your CV (eMail:

Post-doc position available!

Head of project

Staff photo missing Saskia Erttmann Senior research engineer, research fellow (assistant professor)