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RNA-VIRT: Spreading RNA viruses and their interaction with the human and animal host


The junior research group RNA-VIRT deals with the host-dependent pathogenesis of zoonotic RNA viruses using the flaviviruses Early Summer Meningoencephalitis (TBE) virus and Japanese Encephalitis (JE) virus as examples.
The aim is to identify molecular factors that influence both the host tropism and the pathogenesis of these viruses. The results obtained should provide new approaches for prophylactic and therapeutic measures.


The requirements for cell entry and replication in different hosts are tested with subgenomic replicon-based systems for TBE and JE viruses. This includes the determination of tropism and comparisons of cell adhesion, cell entry routes, viral replication and gene expression in different host animals. Viral binding affinities for specific cellular receptors are measured and host-specific differences in viral protein expression and modification are analyzed. Furthermore, changes in cellular gene expression will be determined to identify host cell factors that are selectively induced or downregulated in flavivirus infections of different hosts. Furthermore, to compare the humoral immune response against TBE and JE viruses in different host types, antibody profiles against selected viral antigens will be established and functional antibody tests will be performed to measure antibody-dependent cellular and systemic immune responses.


The research project presented here serves to develop new scientific concepts for the identification of prophylactic and therapeutic approaches to zoonotic infectious diseases, especially TBE and JE viruses. Furthermore, the approach and methods developed in the subprojects are generally transferable to other viral species and families and could become part of a zoonosis preparedness programme for new and spreading viruses.


Dr. Imke Steffen
Institut of Physiological chemistry/ Research Center for Emerging Infections and Zoonoses
Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover
E-Mail  imke.steffen(at)
Tel.  +49-511-953-6112

Prof. Albert Osterhaus, Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover
Prof. Ulrich Kalinke, Twincore, Hannover
Prof. Martin Groschup, Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Insel Riems