Virus-caused diseases are a major threat to human health. We focus on proteins coded by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Dengue virus (DENV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and SARS-Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) the causative agents of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), of dengue fever, of chronic hepatitis, and of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), respectively. Despite a highly evolved immune defense, once infected, humans are e.g. not able to clear HIV-1 from the body, and also most of the HCV exposed persons develop a chronic infection. Still, there is an urgent need for preventive vaccines as well as safe and effective antivirals against these viruses.
Viruses selectively modulate functions of their respective host cells to ensure viral replication and persistence. Viral proteins interfere with various cellular signaling pathways or cellular processes like apoptosis and autophagy, thereby often combating the antiviral defense mechanisms of the infected host cell. We investigate the role of virus-coded regulatory or nonstructural proteins that target or abuse cellular proteins or even cellular membranes in the interest of virus replication or for their defense against the host immune system.
Our research is focused on distinct viral proteins and their respective cellular interaction partners. In the long run, a better understanding of these interactions down to the atomic level will lead to new concepts for innovative antiviral therapies.
We are using a broad spectrum of methods including tools from molecular biology, cellular biology and biophysics. The institute is well equipped for recombinant protein expression/purification, phage display or yeast two-hybrid screens. Structural and dynamic aspects are elucidated by liquid state NMR spectroscopy or in close cooperation with our in-house solid state NMR spectroscopy and X-ray crystal structure facilities. Together with our external cooperation partners, located, e.g., at the Universities of Düsseldorf, Germany, and Tel Aviv, Israel, we are scrutinizing the biological relevance of the studied interactions between virus proteins and host factors.