The IIRVD investigates and develops vaccine strategies for infections with emerging viruses such as Ebola virus and coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 and MERS) and other clinically relevant viruses (including HIV, HBV).
In several research projects, we analyse the immune responses elicited by vaccines. We specifically study the early immune events initiated by the innate arm of the immune system, as well as B and T cell responses. Further, we explore sex-specific differences in vaccine responses.
Our research is mainly conducted at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in the Department for Clinical Immunology of Infectious Diseases .
Dissecting Sex Differences in the Immune Response to Vaccines
Vaccines represent one of the most impactful public health interventions with the prevention of millions of infections and deaths annually worldwide. As illustrated by recent epidemic or pandemic outbreaks caused by emerging viruses such as Ebola Virus, MERS-CoV and more recently SARS-CoV-2, the need for rapid and strategic vaccine development remains paramount.
Men and women differ in the immune response to vaccination with females typically developing higher antibody responses, but also experiencing more adverse reactions following vaccination than males. Yet the exact mechanisms and signaling pathways involved in the differential vaccine outcomes between the sexes remain incompletely understood.
We propose to prospectively investigate and dissect sex-specificity in immunity to vaccines against two important emerging respiratory pathogens with pandemic potential and high global significance: MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2, two recently discovered novel coronaviruses. A detailed understanding of the molecular factors associated with sex-differences in vaccine-induced immune responses may ultimately allow for strategic modulation of vaccine immunity and foster individualized vaccine design.
This project is part of the DFG-funded Research Unit 5068 on "Sex differences in immunity".
Contact Tamara Zoran, Scientist
Evaluation of sex differences in immune responses after immunization against COVID-19
This project evaluates early innate immune responses following immunization with the vaccine candidate MVA-SARS-2-S compared to immunization with an approved mRNA vaccine against COVID-19. At longitudinal time points after each immunization, cytokine levels are analyzed by Luminex, diverse innate cell populations are assessed using flow cytometry, and RNA expression of innate cell subsets are measured using RNASeq. The aim of the project is to evaluate whether there are differences in the vaccine-induced innate immunity between male and female study participants.
This project is funded by the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF)
Contact Anahita Fathi, Clinician Scientist
T cell memory after coronavirus vaccination
Memory T cells are an essential part of the adaptive immune system, as they clear infected cells and are necessary for the induction of an efficient humoral response. Thus, their induction is important to consider during vaccine development. Novel vaccine platforms such as mRNA and viral vectors were shown to induce a strong T cell immune response, which differs according to homologous/ heterologous prime-boost strategy and time between vaccinations. In this project, we are analyzing the dynamics and function of the T cell response after vaccination with the licensed COVID-19 vaccines and MVA-based vaccine candidates. A better understanding of the T cell response after vaccination will contribute to defining correlates of vaccine-induced protection, especially against viral variants.
Contact Leonie Mayer, PhD Student
Contact Christine Dahlke, Scientist
Humoral immunity and B cell memory following vaccination against the human coronaviruses MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2
Upon vaccination, naïve B cells specific to the vaccine antigen can differentiate into different B cell populations. Plasmablasts and plasma cells secrete high amounts of antibodies and are mostly short living, whereas memory B cells can survive for years in the absence of the respective antigen and are important to confer long-term protection. Binding and neutralizing antibodies are considered important drivers of vaccine-induced protection against infection. Furthermore, non-neutralizing antibody functions like antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) and phagocytosis (ADCP) are increasingly recognized as an important part of antibody-mediated protection against disease and strongly depend on the antibodies’ subclasses.
We here analyze longitudinal (memory) B cell dynamics as well as antibody subclasses and functionality. A comprehensive analysis of vaccine-induced B cells and antibodies is important to characterize magnitude and quality of vaccine-induced immunity and to better understand the impact of different vaccine platforms and vaccination schedules on quality and persistence of immune responses.
Contact Marie Weskamm, PhD Student
Contact Christine Dahlke, Scientists