Gastroenterology / Mucosal Immunology

Host-Microbe interactions

Group Prof. Andrew Macpherson

The main focus of gastroenterology research lies in the understanding of how humans and other mammals co-exist with enormous numbers of microbes in their lower intestine and how these microbes are involved in shaping our immune system. The microbes that we carry in or on our body outnumber our own cells by about 10-fold, and collectively they harbor 100-fold more genes than we do. These microbes normally do not cause disease in healthy people, but they are an essential part of our bodies, helping us to digest food, providing vitamins, breaking down poisonous chemicals and protecting the intestinal lining from invasion of pathogenic bacteria, which may cause disease. Our research deals with the way in which the body adapts to accept these microbes in the intestine, and how the combination of microbes helps ensure health. This is especially important during early life and a part of our research focuses on the events triggered by commensal microbiota during fetal and neonatal life. Many conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), forms of arthritis, allergy, diabetes, liver disease and obesity are associated with alterations in the microbiota or defects in how our bodies adapt to their presence: our goal is to provide a fundamental understanding of these events to be able to provide new treatments for patients with these conditions. More details can be obtained from our external Group Website.

We also have programs that investigate the motility of the intestines in health and disease, the genetic and immune predisposition to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and in novel treatments for inflammatory bowel disease.


Microbiota and the developing immune system

Group Prof. Stephanie Ganal-Vonarburg

A vast number of bacteria, viruses, and fungi inhabit the inner and outer body surfaces, such as the intestine, the airways and the skin, of all healthy mammals and contribute to host physiology (digestion, vitamin production, immune maturation). These microbes are currently referred to as the commensal microbiota. Colonization with microbiota starts at birth when the neonate leaves the sterile environment of the uterus. Throughout the last decade, it became apparent that events and environmental conditions during these early years, such as birth mode, feeding regime or geographic location, are very important factors that can have a long-term effect on the host immune system. Recently, we were able to show that even the maternal microbiota during pregnancy can beneficially shape the neonatal immune system of the offspring. The period covering conception, fetal development and early life is thus often called the “window of opportunity”.

In our lab, we are investigating the role of the commensal microbiota during early life and try to understand how it can contribute to the maturation of the host immune system and to other processes in the mammalian body. Our main focus lies on the application of axenic and gnotobiotic models in combination with immunological, microbiological, epigenetic and state-of-the-art next-generation sequencing techniques (RNA-Seq, single cell analysis, Ig repertoire sequencing, ChIP-Seq). In addition, we are currently setting up a mother-infant birth cohort in order to study various aspects of host-microbe interactions in a human setting.

For more information, please visit our external Group Website.

Group Members: 21

Group Members: 4