Nanoscale Infection Biology
Viruses are nanoscale entities. Despite their size and low complexity, they efficiently enter host cells leading to infection and reprogramming of cellular functions. The critical processes involve only a handful of viral and cellular proteins. Yet this contact is critical for the outcome of infection and the cellular immune response. We look at these processes to understand which cellular processes are stimulated by viruses and how the host cell interprets an infecting virus at the molecular level. At the scale of single viruses, these processes, their dynamics and structural conditions remain mostly unclear. We thus use advanced microscopy techniques, which allow us to visualize viral and cellular nanostructures during the infection process.
Our working group investigates the cell interaction of respiratory RNA viruses with the help of modern microscopy methods in order to understand how individual viruses communicate with their host cells and how these signals are interpreted by the cells.
The cellular plasma membrane plays a crucial role during virus entry into the cell and also for the assembly of new infectious viruses. It serves the cell on the one hand as a communication interface, but also as a barrier against invading pathogens. Viruses are able to use and modify the plasma membrane, its structure and components in a targeted manner. Our aim is to study these processes at the level of individual viruses and individual proteins.
This nanoscopic view is important because viruses, due to their size and limited genome, have little opportunity to interact with the host cell in order to initiate an infection. The cell's own proteins are bound, an initially rather unspecific process, but then also activated, which in turn appears to occur in a specific manner. We use high- and super-resolution microscopy methods to investigate virus infection on a nanoscopic level in order to understand cellular structures and their dynamics during infection.