Arbeitsgruppe Dr. med. Helenie Kefalakes

Our research focus is on translational immunology of infectious diseases and has focused over the past years on hepatitis B and hepatitis D virus infection to investigate host-pathogen interactions and liver disease pathogenesis. Main aim of our research is to better understand immunological mechanisms implicated in viral clearance and persistence with an overall goal to translate those findings to the clinic. We apply cutting edge technology such as single-cell and spatial transcriptomics, multicolor spectral flow cytometry and a diverse set of specialized immunological and virological techniques to dissect the implicated immunological mechanisms.

The hepatitis D virus (HDV) is the smallest virus and the only satellite virus known to infect humans, inducing the least frequent but most severe form of viral hepatitis. HDV infection occurs either as a co-infection with the hepatitis B virus or as a super-infection of patients with chronic hepatitis B. Currently available treatment options show limited efficacy in only a subset of patients.

The role of the immune system in HDV infection has been studied incompletely. We have been able to map CD8+ T-cell epitopes in chronic HDV infection and characterize HDV-specific CD8+ T cell responses. The majority of these T cells are not terminally differentiated and exhausted, but memory-like in the presence of viral escape mutations, while T cells with viral eliminating capacities are chronically activated and prone to apoptosis.

By studying immune responses in the liver we could demonstrate that the phenotype of CD8+ T cells is influenced by their localization. CD8+ T cells located in the liver have a tissue-resident phenotype with high expression of markers of innate-like activation, such as NKG2D. Thus, activation of CD8+ T cells in a bystander manner may contribute to liver disease pathogenesis in chronic HDV infection.

We are currently dissecting the mechanisms involved in the immunopathogenesis of HDV infection further. Here, we have different projects ongoing, which are currently funded by the DFG, RESIST, DZIF and EU Horizon Health. We are constantly looking for talented Postdocs, PhD/MD/Master students. If you are interested in our research, please contact Helenie Kefalakes (



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