Yearbook of the Max Planck Society


  • The secret life of malaria parasites during the dry season

    2021 Portugal, Silvia; Denkhaus, Christian
    Malaria is caused by the parasite Plasmodium and transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. But what happens if no mosquitoes are present during a dry season? Our research group is investigating the mechanisms used by malaria parasites to survive dry seasons in their host. For this, we cooperate with a partner group of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Bamako, Mali, where we study more than 600 people over long periods of time.


  • More than a schematic: How we want to decipher immunological signaling pathways

    2020 Taylor, Marcus J.
    Communication is key for our immune system. When pathogens attack our body, this information must be passed on and converted into activity. We investigate the signalling mechanisms of the innate immune system to create a fundamental understanding of the function of these signal transduction pathways. To do so, we visualised the formation of the myddosome: a supramolecular organizing center, which forms at immune receptors and controls signal transmission. Our results can help understanding the dynamic interaction of signaling substances in immune cells.


  • Malaria, CRISPR/Cas9 and gene drives

    2019 Levashina, Elena A.
    Mosquitoes are known to spread malaria, however, mosquitoes are different. By collecting thousands of mosquitoes in four different African countries, we found that some mosquito species are much better vectors of malaria-causing parasites than others. Statistics and modeling analyses of our big dataset revealed that the prevalence of malaria-infected mosquitoes depends on the composition of mosquito species inhabiting this area. We also discovered that mosquito immune system and metabolism determine the success of parasite development in the mosquito and its virulence to the next human host.


  • Neutrophils: Between cell division and cell death

    2018 Arturo Zychlinsky, Abteilung Zelluläre Mikrobiologie, Max-Planck-Institut für Infektionsbiologie
    Organisms are confronted with a multitude of pathogens on a daily basis. Hence, in the course of evolution, the immune system developed many sophisticated defense mechanisms. In 2004, our team described a previously unknown mechanism: neutrophils, which are quite abundant immune cells, are able to trap harmful microorganisms in nets. Interestingly, these nets are not just built of the same components as the genetic material, but also, their formation follows steps which otherwise only take place during cell division.


  • Chronic infections of the stomach and their fatal consequences

    2017 Meyer, Thomas F.
    New findings from the institute provide detailed insight into the molecular and cellular mechanisms through which the gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori induces chronic inflammation of the gastric mucosa and how this could promote the development of cancer. The human mucosa is equipped with efficient sensors in combination with defense mechanisms for detecting and, if necessary, eliminating the pathogenic bacteria. In the case of H. pylori, however, this pathogen is detected but the subsequent induction of a protective response is effectively blocked.


  • Fountains of youth of the immune system

    2016 Melchers, Fritz

    For life, hematopoietic stem cells are springs of all new cells of the immune system. We have studied the embryonic origins of these stem cells, their migration from blood into fetal liver, their residence in bone marrow, their capacities to save energy and rest or to become active and differentiate into all types of mature cells of the immune system. Surprisingly, stem cells offer a home for quiescent, latent forms of tuberculosis bacteria. Thus, they may be a continuous danger for an eruption of active tuberculosis but may also be a source of continuously produced tuberculosis vaccine.


  • Rational development of a tuberculosis vaccine: From drawing board to clinical trial

    2015 Kaufmann, Stefan H.E.
    Tuberculosis (TB) remains a global health threat and a new vaccine is urgently needed for better control. We have developed a novel TB vaccine with high efficacy and safety profile. The vaccine has proven its safety and immunogenicity in clinical trials in adults and infants in Germany and South Africa. Currently a study with newborns from HIV-infected mothers is ongoing in South Africa, and for 2016 a large study with adults at heightened TB risk is planned in India.


  • Plasmodium infections: attacking the parasite before malaria hurts

    2014 Matuschewski, Kai
    Malaria is a poverty-related infectious disease in the tropics and a major challenge for medical research. A better molecular understanding of the underlying mechanisms of Plasmodium-host interactions and the complex parasite life cycle is the basis for innovative evidence-based intervention strategies. Novel insights from the clinically silent liver infection and related parasites in Afrotropical bats indicate previously unrecognized opportunities to stop the parasite prior to malaria onset and to induce a decisive immunological advantage in the host.


  • Vector biology - a paradigm of host–pathogen interactions

    2013 Elena Levashina
    Insects represent 90% of animal species in our planet. Only a small fraction is known as vectors of infectious diseases. Our work is focused on Anopheles gambiae, the most efficient vector of malaria, which kills about 600,000 people annually. What makes some insect species such a good host for Plasmodium, the parasite that causes the disease? How does the mosquito detect Plasmodium and protect itself against the pathogen? These questions are the focus of our research, which aims to understand the molecular mechanisms of mosquito resistance to Plasmodium and their role in malaria transmission.


  • Immunity and development - two sides of a coin?

    2012 Zychlinsky, Arturo
    Neutrophils make up the majority of white blood cells in humans. They are part of the immune system and have many ways to fight pathogens. One of their strategies is to cast net-like extracellular structures called Neutrophil Extracellular Traps (NETs). NETs consist of DNA, histones, and specific proteins. DNA and histones, however, are also responsible for organizing the genetic information and regulating the development of an organism. The Department of Cellular Microbiology works on this tight link between immunity and development.


  • Innovative approaches towards a resistance-proof treatment of acute and chronic infections

    2011 Meyer, Thomas F.
    Scientists at the institute pursue innovative approaches to develop resistance-proof cures of acute and chronic infections. The strategy relies on the fact that infections decisively depend on the cooperation of host cell determinants, which constitute druggable targets. With the help of modern RNAi based screening technology the entire human genome was scanned for determinants essential for the replication and growth of Influenza viruses and Chlamydiae. The resulting data form a basis for the design of novel drugs and vaccines and provide striking views on the biology of infection.


  • Tuberculosis: Research on a forgotten disease

    2010 Kaufmann, Stefan H.E.
    Annually, 10 million individuals develop tuberculosis of whom 2 million die. Globally, an estimated 2 billion individuals are infected with the etiologic agent. New vaccines, drugs and diagnostics are urgently needed. Targeted research can make a difference. Our research reveals novel mechanisms of early host defense and provides insights into the granuloma as histologic correlate of protection and pathology. Further, we have developed a novel vaccine and characterized biomarkers for tuberculosis.


  • Malaria: Why we need a vaccine

    2009 Matuschewski, Kai
    Malaria infects more than 300 million people and kills about 1 - 2 million children annually. Vector control programs and impregnated bednets limit the spread of malaria, but are not effective in eliminating the disease in Africa. Therefore, a vaccine is urgently needed. Since the pathogen constantly hides from the host immune system, scientists need to design innovative immunization strategies.


  • Lymphocyte development from stem cells

    2008 Melchers, Fritz
    All essential blood forming cells can be generated from the embryonic stem cells of mice and retransplanted into recipient mice. The influence of a larger number of genes with different functions during the generation of the innate and adaptive immune system can thus genetically be studied under natural conditions. Since in embryonic stem cells a defect gene can be replaced by a copy of its intact form by homologous recombination, immunodeficiencies can be repaired by targeted gene therapy.


  • Self-Tolerance in human B cells

    2007 Wardemann, Hedda
    Somatic recombination and somatic hypermutation generate the diversity of the immunoglobulin (Ig) repertoire. Both mechanisms form Ig that recognize foreign antigens and also Ig that react with self-antigens. The frequency at which autoreactive Ig are made and where and when they are regulated to avoid autoimmunity is unclear. The generation of recombinant monoclonal antibodies from single isolated human B cells helps to answer these questions.


  • Making sense of little antisense

    2006 Vogel, Jörg
    After decades of being either underestimated as a simple messenger for the expression of genes – from DNA to protein - or, vice versa, revered as the molecule from which all life potentially originated, RNA is now enjoying a well-deserved golden age as modern techniques allow researchers to uncover the myriad subtle roles that this molecule plays in the cells, tissues, and organisms. The RNA Biology Group at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology is exploring the functions of RNA molecules in bacteria that cause harm to humans and animals.


  • Innate immunity in enteric infections

    2005 Zychlinsky, Arturo
    Shigella flexneri is the causative agent of Shigellosis, a severe form of bloody diarrhea which is prevalent in countries with poor sanitary conditions. Bacterial dysentery represents a severe health policy problem: Worldwide, an estimated 165 million cases of shigellosis annually occur resulting in at least 1.1 million deaths mainly among children. Shigella, which is transmitted through the fecal-oral route, is a remarkably virulent pathogen. In clinical trials, ten to a hundred bacteria are enough to trigger disease. S. flexneri is responsible for most of the infections, while infections with S. dysenteriae, the only species that produces Shigatoxin, are less common but can lead to devastating epidemics. The inflammatory response elicited by Shigella is rich in neutrophils, which are, like macrophages, effective antibacterial cells. Interestingly, neutrophils can also attack and kill Shigella extracellularly by producing net-like structures (Neutrophil Extracellular Traps, NETs).


  • Helicobacter pylori – one of the most frequnet bacteriel pathogens

    2004 Meyer, Thomas F.; Achtman, Mark; Aebischer, Anton; Moese, Stefan
    Helicobacter pylori comprises a multi-faceted model of host-pathogen interactions: Genetic fingerprints of world-wide collected strains reflect historical human migrations; translocation of bacterial CagA protein provokes changes in gastric cells; vaccine development uncovers principles of gastric immune protection.


  • Novel helper molecules and pathways of antigen presentation in tuberculosis

    2003 Schaible, Ulrich; Winau, Florian
    Tuberculosis is the most prevalent bacterial infectious disease and is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Protective immunity is mediated by T-lymphocytes including CD4 helper T cells, cytotoxic CD8 T cells as well as lipid-specific, CD1-restricted T-lymphocytes. Scientists from the Department of Immunology of the Max-Planck-Institute for Infection Biology now characterized a novel presentation pathway for mycobacterial antigens as prerequisite for effective CD8 T cell activation. This "detour pathway" originates from mycobacteria-infected macrophages undergoing programmed cell death (apoptosis). During apoptosis, infected macrophages release apoptotic vesicles containing mycobacterial material. Subsequently, these vesicles are taken up by dendritic cells, which process the engulfed antigens for presentation to CD8 T cells. Moreover, a new group of helper molecules named saposins was identified which facilitates antigen presentation of lipids through CD1-molecules. Saposins bridge the biophysical gap between membrane-bound lipids and hydrophilic presentation molecules. Lipid-specific T-lymphocytes play a role in tuberculosis since M. tuberculosis disposes of a waxy, lipid-rich cell wall. Insights into fundamental aspects of presentation of mycobacterial antigens are the basis for a better understanding of T cell activation and rational vaccine design against tuberculosis.
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