Chronic Infections: Microbial Persistence and how to control it
From an early age, people are colonized by numerous microorganisms, which develop mechanisms to stay present in different habitats in the human body over the entire lifespan of their host. The relationship between humans and persisting microorganisms can be of a symbiotic nature - for example, when the intestinal bacterial flora is involved in metabolic processes or when colonizing bacteria and Viruses affect the maturation of the immune system.
On the other hand, the colonization of the host by persistent microorganisms can just as well lead to disease and fatality, if certain microbial properties trigger pathogenic processes or a stable coexistence with normally innocuous microbes can either not be established or take a pathogenic course in the course of life due to genetically induced or acquired weaknesses of the host.
Worldwide, chronic infections caused by HIV, HCV, Mycobacterium tuberculosis or Helicobacter pylori are an important cause for potentially preventable diseases and death. Moreover, the progress of modern medicine in terms of organ replacement and the increasing lifespan of patients with genetic defects in their defence system result in rising numbers of iatrogenic immunosuppressive or otherwise immuno-compromised persons. Likewise, the significance of opportunistic infections is on the rise as well, many of which are caused by persistent pathogens that are largely harmless in immuno-competent individuals.
New therapeutic approaches
Given the clinical problems caused by chronic infections, it will be necessary in the long term to identify new therapeutic approaches to improve the life expectancy and quality of life of many of our patients. We therefore wish to better understand the underlying mechanisms that are necessary for the establishment or maintenance of a chronic Infection.
This long-term goal is the purpose of the special research area applied for here. The collaboration of 18 subprojects studying different examples of chronically persistent microorganisms is aimed at gaining a better understanding of
- how chronic infectious pathogens become established in the infected Host ,
- how they manage through permanent adaptation of their genome and modulation of the gene expression to persist in the infected Host in the long-term, and
- what possibilities are available to them to evade the defence mechanisms of the host and/or which of these defence mechanisms are essential for the prevention or containment of an infection with these pathogens.
Professor Dr. Thomas F. Schulz (MHH)
DFG - German Research Foundation