Department of Environmental Immunology and Core Facility Studies
The incidence of allergies and other chronic inflammatory diseases has increased dramatically over recent decades. This is attributed to environmental factors mediated by epigenetic mechanisms which contribute to defective regulation of important signal pathways and thus cause illness, particularly, it seems, during pre-natal and early post-natal development. Which damaging factors are critical for whom and at which stage of life? What are the molecular mechanisms underlying them?
Comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms and sensitive timeframes involved when environmental factors contribute to disease pathology is crucial to the development of suitable strategies for diagnosis and therapy, particularly for the prevention of environmental diseases on an individual level.
It is important to consider the whole chain of events: from complex individual exposure to many different environment contaminants, their impact on molecular signal paths and cell functions to the effect on the whole organism that results.
Our immune system is particularly sensitive to environmental pollution as it matures in the pre-natal period and in early childhood. Our research in the Department of Environmental Immunology and Core Facility Studies therefore focuses on this period. We use the population-based LISAplus study, a multicentre German birth cohort, and our mother-child cohort LINA to investigate how environmental pollution, and chemicals in particular, during the pre and early post-natal phase affect the immune system as it matures and the consequences of changes to the immune regulation on diseases later in the life of the child. Risk factors associated with certain chemicals or harmful substances indicated by the cohort studies are subsequently analysed in cell-based in-vitro models to identify underlying molecular mechanisms and perturbed regulatory pathways. Murine disease models are applied to research the trans-generational risk of environmental pollution and to test options for prevention and therapy through the identification of molecular mechanisms.
The identification of harmful environmental pollution and the clarification of the underlying molecular mechanisms will provide the scientific basis for the development of new, more efficient methods of diagnosis and therapy as well as individualised prevention strategies. By focussing in particular on the effects on health of chemical exposure, our research supports the UFZ's strategy for an integrated assessment of the toxicological risk posed by chemicals to humans and the environment.