Emmy Noether Research Group
The human immune system plays an important role in host protection, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, cancer, metabolism, and ageing. Given this central role in many human pathologies, it is crucial to understand the variability of immune responses at the population level and how this variability relates to disease susceptibility.
Large genome-wide association studies have implicated hundreds of genetic loci in immune-related genes highlighting the immune system’s role in the biological mechanism underlying genetic risk to numerous diseases. However, for the vast majority of these genetic variants, we have little understanding of their functional effects and their context-specificity. Studying the genetic influence on immune response is further complicated by the complexity of the immune system, which consists of many different cell types that respond to a plethora of signals, interact with each other and induce different effector functions under diverse kinetics.
Our group integrates state-of-the-art genomic and functional genetic approaches to characterize the genetic basis of human immune response variation to advance our understanding of disease-associated variants and answer questions of genome function plasticity that is shaped by gene-by-environment interactions. We focus in particular on molecular quantitative traits (molQTLs) in the context of immune activation and disentangle the cell type and context specificity of functional genetic variants with the ultimate goal to develop a roadmap for complex traits at large and enable the move from genetic discovery to functional interpretation and ultimately clinical impact.
COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. It was first identified in 2019 in Wuhan, China, and has since spread globally, resulting in the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic. Common symptoms include fever and cough, however disease symptoms as well as disease course and outcome are highly variable ranging from asymptomatic cases to severe pneumonia and death. While children are likely to have milder symptoms than adults, children of all ages are susceptible to COVID-19 and can suffer from severe disease. Until now it is unknown why children show a different course of disease compared to adults.
Studying the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 in children is therefore critical to rapidly advance our understanding of the pathophysiology of COVID-19 both in children and adults. Children offer a unique possibility to study host-related factors that determine COVID-19 severity in the absence of ageing and comorbidity-related interactions, which are largely determining the disease course in adults.
We have therefore initiated a functional genetics and genomics COVID-19 study to examine the genetic and environmental risk factors of COVID-19 in pediatric and adult patients. Our group integrates deep immune profiling with multi-omics across multiple molecular levels (genome, transcriptome, proteome, metabolome) to enhance our understanding of the human immune response to SARS-CoV-2. Following questions will be addressed:
- Why does SARS-CoV-2 affect children differently compared to adults?
- What are the genetic and immunological risk factors that contribute to this difference?
- Can we use these factors to identify those children who will become severely affected?
As part of the Child Health Alliance Munich (CHANCE) initiative this prospective study is performed at the Dr. von Hauner Children’s Hospital of the Ludwig-Maximilians University (LMU) Munich and the Department of Pediatrics of the Technical University of Munich School of Medicine (TUM). The study is also actively involved in national (Deutsche COVID-19 OMICS Initiative) and international (COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative) COVID-19 initiatives to join forces in combating this pandemic.
1. Flynn, E., Tsu, A., Kasela, S., Kim-Hellmuth, S., Aguet, F., Ardlie, K. G., Bussemaker, H. J., Mohammadi, P. & Lappalainen, T. Transcription factor regulation of eQTL activity across individuals and tissues. Plos Genet 18, e1009719 (2022).
2. Brandt, M. K., Kim-Hellmuth, S., Ziosi, M., Gokden, A., Wolman, A., Lam, N., Recinos, Y., Hornung, V. K., Schumacher, J. & Lappalainen, T. An autoimmune disease risk variant: A trans master regulatory effect mediated by IRF1 under immune stimulation? PLoS Genet 17(7), (2021).
3. Warnat-Herresthal, S., Schultze, H., Shastry, K. L., Manamohan, S., Mukherjee, S., Garg, V., Sarveswara, R., Händler, K., Pickkers, P., Aziz, N. A., Ktena, S., Tran, F., Bitzer, M., Ossowski, S., Casadei, N., Herr, C., Petersheim, D., Behrends, U., Kern, F., Fehlmann, T., Schommers, P., Lehmann, C., Augustin, M., Rybniker, J., Altmüller, J., Mishra, N., Bernardes, J. P., Krämer, B., Bonaguro, L., Schulte-Schrepping, J., Domenico, E. D., Siever, C., Kraut, M., Desai, M., Monnet, B., Saridaki, M., Siegel, C. M., Drews, A., Nuesch-Germano, M., Theis, H., Heyckendorf, J., Schreiber, S., Kim-Hellmuth, S., […], Deutsche COVID-19 Omics Initiative (DeCOI), Giamarellos-Bourboulis, E. J., Kox, M., Becker, M., Cheran, S., Woodacre, M. S., Goh, E. L. & Schultze, J. L. Swarm Learning for decentralized and confidential clinical machine learning. Nature 1–7 (2021).
4. de Goede, O. M., Nachun, D. C., Ferraro, N. M., Gloudemans, M. J., Rao, A. S., Smail, C., Eulalio, T. Y., Aguet, F., Ng, B., Xu, J., Barbeira, A. N., Castel, S. E., Kim-Hellmuth, S., Park, Y., Scott, A. J., Strober, B. J., GTEx Consortium, Brown, C. D., Wen, X., Hall, I. M., Battle, A., Lappalainen, T., Im, H. K., Ardlie, K. G., Mostafavi, S., Quertermous, T., Kirkegaard, K. & Montgomery, S. B. Population-scale tissue transcriptomics maps long non-coding RNAs to complex disease. Cell (2021).
5. Barbeira, A. N.*, Bonazzola, R.*, Gamazon, E. R.*, Liang, Y.*, Park, Y.*, Kim-Hellmuth, S., Wang, G., Jiang, Z., Zhou, D., Hormozdiari, F., Liu, B., Rao, A., Hamel, A. R., Pividori, M. D., Aguet, F., GTEx GWAS working group, Bastarache, L., Jordan, D. M., Verbanck, M., Do, R., GTEx Consortium, Stephens, M., Ardlie, K., McCarthy, M., Montgomery, S. B., Segre, A. V., Brown, C. D., Lappalainen, T., Wen, X. & Im, H. K. Exploiting the GTEx resources to decipher the mechanisms at GWAS loci. Genome Biol. 22, 49–24 (2021).
6. GTEx Consortium#. The GTEx Consortium atlas of genetic regulatory effects across human tissues. Science 369, 1318-1330 (2020). #Lead analyst: Kim-Hellmuth, S.
7. Kim-Hellmuth, S.†*, Aguet, F.*, Oliva, M., Muñoz-Aguirre, M., Kasela, S., Wucher, V., Castel, S. E., Hamel, A. R., Viñuela, A., Roberts, A. L., Mangul, S., Wen, X., Wang, G., Barbeira, A. N., Garrido-Martin, D., Nadel, B., Zou, Y., Bonazzola, R., Quan, J., Brown, A., Martinez-Perez, A., Soria, J. M., GTEx Consortium, Getz, G., Dermitzakis, E., Small, K. S., Stephens, M., Xi, H. S., Im, H. K., Guigó, R., Segre, A. V., Stranger, B. E., Ardlie, K. G. & Lappalainen, T. Cell type specific genetic regulation of gene expression across human tissues. Science 369 (2020).
8. Oliva, M.*, Muñoz-Aguirre, M.*, Kim-Hellmuth, S.*, Wucher, V., Gewirtz, A., Cotter, D., Parsana, P., Kasela, S., Balliu, B., Viñuela, A., Castel, S. E., Mohammadi, P., Aguet, F., Zou, Y., Khramtsova, E., Skol, A., Garrido-Martin, D., Reverter, F., Brown, A., Evans, P., Gamazon, E., Payne, A., Bonazzola, R., Barbeira, A. N., Hamel, A. R., Martinez-Perez, A., Soria, J. M., GTEx Consortium, Pierce, B., Stephens, M., Eskin, E., Dermitzakis, E., Segre, A. V., Im, H. K., Engelhardt, B., Ardlie, K. G., Montegomery, S., Battle, A., Lappalainen, T., Guigó, R. & Stranger, B. E. The impact of sex on gene expression and its genetic regulation across human tissues. Science 369 (2020).
9. Demanelis, K., Jasmine, F., Chen, L. S., Chernoff, M., Tong, L., Delgado, D., Zhang, C., Shinkle, J., Sabarinathan, M., Lin, H., Ramirez, E., Oliva, M., Kim-Hellmuth, S., Stranger, B. E., Lai, T.-P., Aviv, A., Ardlie, K. G., Aguet, F., Ahsan, H., GTEx Consortium, Doherty, J. A., Kibriya, M. G. & Pierce, B. L. Determinants of telomere length across human tissues. Science 369 (2020).
10. Kim-Hellmuth, S.†, Bechheim, M., Pütz, B., Mohammadi, P., Nédélec, Y., Giangreco, N., Becker, J., Kaiser, V., Fricker, N., Beier, E., Boor, P., Castel, S. E., Nöthen, M. M., Barreiro, L. B., Pickrell, J. K., Müller-Myhsok, B., Lappalainen, T., Schumacher, J. & Hornung, V. Genetic regulatory effects modified by immune activation contribute to autoimmune disease associations. Nat Commun 8, 266 (2017).
11. Kim-Hellmuth, S. & Lappalainen, T. Concerted Genetic Function in Blood Traits. Cell 167, 1167–1169 (2016).
12. Kim, S., Becker, J., Bechheim, M., Kaiser, V., Noursadeghi, M., Fricker, N., Beier, E., Klaschik, S., Boor, P., Hess, T., Hofmann, A., Holdenrieder, S., Wendland, J. R., Fröhlich, H., Hartmann, G., Nöthen, M. M., Müller-Myhsok, B., Pütz, B., Hornung, V. & Schumacher, J. Characterizing the genetic basis of innate immune response in TLR4-activated human monocytes. Nat Commun 5, 5236 (2014).
13. Kim, S., Kaiser, V., Beier, E., Bechheim, M., Guenthner-Biller, M., Ablasser, A., Berger, M., Endres, S., Hartmann, G. & Hornung, V. Self-priming determines high type I IFN production by plasmacytoid dendritic cells. Eur. J. Immunol. 44, 807–818 (2014).
14. Kim, S., Bauernfeind, F., Ablasser, A., Hartmann, G., Fitzgerald, K. A., Latz, E. & Hornung, V. Listeria monocytogenes is sensed by the NLRP3 and AIM2 inflammasome. Eur. J. Immunol. 40, 1545–1551 (2010).
15. Hornung, V., Ellegast, J., Kim, S., Brzózka, K., Jung, A., Kato, H., Poeck, H., Akira, S., Conzelmann, K.-K., Schlee, M., Endres, S. & Hartmann, G. 5'-Triphosphate RNA is the ligand for RIG-I. Science 314, 994–997 (2006).
†Corresponding author, *Equally contributing author
Master student Nishant Chintalagiri joins the lab
MD student Theresa Haslbeck joins the lab
PhD student Barbara Puzek joins the lab
PhD student Luise Zeckey joins the lab
Official start of the Helmholtz Young Investigator Group "Immunogenomics"
MD student Alina Czwienzek joins the lab
PhD student Sathya Darmalinggam joins the lab
MD student Jöran Sarazzin joins the lab
MD student Anda Ardeoan joins the lab
Lab outing summer 2022
First CompHealth retreat at HMGU
Lab picture after our first Ped-COVID-19 symposium
Our group at the Hauner charity concert for children in Ukraine
Welcome lunch with our new PhD student Luise
Welcome lunch with our new MD student Theresa
First lab outing after a long lockdown
We are actively looking to expand our group at all levels (postdocs, senior and junior staff scientists, graduate students, interns). Given our interdisciplinary work we offer both dry and wet lab projects and are looking for highly motivated individuals with diverse scientific backgrounds (immunologists, clinicians, computational biologists, statistical geneticists, data scientists).
- Fascinated by the immune system and its complexity and diversity among us human beings?
- Driven to better understand genetic gene regulation and its role in immune-related diseases?
- Interested in applying cutting-edge genomics technologies and analytical approaches to answer some of the pressing questions in genetics & genomics and immunology?
- Enjoy working in an interdisciplinary and collaborative team surrounded by a vibrant scientific environment?
Then look no more!
Our group is dedicated to better understand the genetic basis of human immune response variation and translate those insights into the clinic to improve every day medical decision-making. Located both at Helmholtz Munich and the LMU University hospital we are embedded and collaborate in a wide scientific network, in particular with the Computational Health Center, the Department of Pediatrics, the Biomedical Center, the Gene Center Munich and of course nationally and internationally.
If you are interested in discussing projects or job opportunities please get in touch via email. This can be even very early before your potential start or before major conferences to meet informally.
Diversity and inclusivity are key values in our group. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds especially from underrepresented and underprivileged backgrounds.