Department of Environmental Immunology
Graphic: ARTKOLCHOSE / UFZ

Department of Environmental Immunology

The incidence of allergies and other chronical inflammatory diseases has increased dramatically over recent decades. This is attributed to environmental factors which contribute to defective regulation of important signal pathways and thus cause illness. Such disease-causing influences of environmental pollutants mainly occur during the perinatal phase (during pregnancy and early postnatal development). Which damaging factors are critical for whom and at which stage of life? What are the molecular mechanisms underlying them? And what role do our immune cells and the microbiome play in this process? The Department of Environmental Immunology at the UFZ Leipzig addresses those questions of tremendous importance.

Essential for the development of suitable strategies for diagnosis, therapy and especially the individual prevention of diseases caused by environmental damages is a comprehensive understanding about which mechanisms environmental factors might trigger a pathogenesis of diseases in particular time slots. It is important to consider the whole chain of incidents: starting from individual complex exposure to diverse environmental stresses over their influence on molecular signal pathways and cellular functions to the resulting effects on the entire organism.

The time in the womb is a critical stage for the development of the child and the placenta plays an important role. She is crucial for the formation of subsequent chronical inflammatory diseases. The adaptive maternal immune system is essential for the development of tolerance towards the fetus during pregnancy and for maintaining the immunological balance between mother and child. On the other hand, the innate immune system primarily takes over tasks in the tissue transformation in the placenta and thus ensures that the child is supplied with sufficient nutrients. Both arms of the immune system can be negatively affected by environmental chemicals and thus disturb the growth of the fetus. In the prenatal maturation phase as well as in the early childhood, the immune system of the unborn child reacts very sensitive to environmental impacts. That is why our research focuses on those sensitive time slots. We use population-based cohort studies, for example the LISAplus Study, a multicentric german birth cohort, and the LINA Study, a Mother-Child-cohort, to investigate how environmental impacts and especially chemicals can affect the development of children’s immune system in the pre- and early postnatal phase and how the consequences of environmental impacts can influence the immune regulation regarding diseases in their future life. If there are indications from the cohort studies of disease risks caused by certain chemicals or pollutants, cell-based and in vitro models are used to elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms and to identify misregulated signal pathways. In addition, we use complex in vivo models to investigate the effects of environmental impacts on physiological mechanisms over to the pathogenesis in consideration of the transmissions to next generations. Those models mainly help us to understand the molecular mechanisms and to enable tests for prevention and therapy.

The identification of unhealthy environmental impacts and the understanding of underlying molecular mechanisms build the scientific basis for the development of new, more efficient diagnostic and therapeutic approaches as well as individual based prevention strategies. Because of our focus on health effects that can be caused by chemicals, we support the UFZ strategy of an integrated chemical risk assessment regarding risks for humans and the ecosystem.

Recent Publications

Leppert, B., Strunz, S., Seiwert, B., Schlittenbauer, L., Schlichting, R., Pfeiffer, C., Röder, S., Bauer, M., Borte, M., Stangl, G.I., Schöneberg, T., Schulz, A., Karkossa, I., Rolle-Kampczyk, U.E., Thürmann, L., von Bergen, M., Escher, B.I., Junge, K.M., Reemtsma, T., Lehmann, I., Polte, T. Maternal paraben exposure triggers childhood overweight development Nature Communications 2020
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press release

Krause, J.L., Schaepe, S.S., Fritz-Wallace, K., Engelmann, B., Rolle-Kampczyk, U., Kleinsteuber, S., Schattenberg, F., Liu, Z., Müller, S., Jehmlich, N., von Bergen, M., Herberth, G. Following the community development of SIHUMIx – a new intestinal in vitro model for bioreactor use Gut Microbes 2020
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Junge, K.M., Leppert, B., Jahreis, S., Wissenbach, D.K., Feltens, R., Grützmann, K., Thürmann, L., Bauer, T., Ishaque, N., Schick, M., Bewerunge-Hudler, M., Röder, S., Bauer, M., Schulz, A., Borte, M., Landgraf, K., Körner, A., Kiess, W., von Bergen, M., Stangl, G.I., Trump, S., Eils, R., Polte, T., Lehmann, I. MEST mediates the impact of prenatal bisphenol A exposure on long-term body weight development Clinical Epigenetics 2018
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Bauer, M. Cell-type-specific disturbance of DNA methylation pattern: a chance to get more benefit from and to minimize cohorts for epigenome-wide association studies International Journal of Epidemiology 2018
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Thürmann, L., Grützmann, K., Klös, M., Bieg, M., Winter, M., Polte, T., Bauer, T., Schick, M., Bewerunge-Hudler, M., Röder, S., Bauer, M., Wissenbach, D.K., Sack, U., Weichenhan, D., Mücke, O., Plass, C., Borte, M., von Bergen, M., Lehmann, I., Eils, R., Trump, S. Early-onset childhood atopic dermatitis is related to NLRP2 repression J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 2018
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Jahreis S, Trump S, Bauer M, Bauer T, Thürmann L, Feltens R, Wang Q, Gu L, Grützmann K, Röder S, Averbeck M, Weichenhahn D, Plass C, Sack U, Borte M, G. Schüürmann, Simon JC, von Bergen, Hackermüller J, Eils R, Lehmann I, Polte T Maternal phthalate exposure promotes allergic airway inflammation over two generations via epigenetic modifications J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 2017
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M. Winter, L. Thürmann, Z. Gu, G. Schüürmann, G. Herberth, D. Hinz, M. von Bergen, H. Harms, S. Olek, S. Röder, M. Borte, R. Eils, I. Lehmann, S. Trump The benzene metabolite 1,4-benzochinone reduces Treg function – a potential mechanism for tobacco smoke-associated atopic dermatitis J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 2017
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Herberth G, Pierzchalski A, Feltens R, Bauer M, Röder S, Olek S, Hinz D, Borte M, von Bergen M, Lehmann I for the LINA study group Prenatal phthalate exposure associates with low regulatory T cell numbers and atopic dermatitis in early childhood – results from the LINA mother-child study J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 2016, 139(4):1376-1379
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