Munich, Apr 26, 2021
The innate immune system is our front-line defense system against pathogens and non-self molecules. It is responsible for the recognition and selective elimination of invaders. Veit Hornung (Chair of Immunochemistry at the LMU Gene Center) studies how the system does so without inflicting collateral damage on the host’s own self, i.e. how it distinguishes friend from foe. His research in this field contributes to the development of therapies that mitigate or prevent autoimmune diseases. For his next project (short title ‘ENGINES’), Hornung has now received one of the coveted Advanced Grants awarded by the ERC. These awards are worth up to 2.5 million euros (and in exceptional cases as much as 3.5 million euros). They are intended for established investigators who wish to carry out highly innovative research programs that have ground-breaking character and promise to open up new fields.
The acronym ‘ENGINES’ stands for “molecular and functional characterization of EmergiNG INflammasomES”, and refers to the project’s primary objectives – the identification of novel inflammasomes and the elucidation of their modes of action. Inflammasomes are protein complexes that serve as sensors of infection and cell stress, and as activators of inflammation reactions that in many cases lead to cell death. In order to understand their function at the molecular level, Hornung and his colleagues plan to comprehensively characterize two of these key sensors using a combination of methods, and to determine their significance for antiviral immune defense mechanisms by measuring their responses to a wide variety of pathogens in vivo. “The study will not only enable us to gain insights into the signaling pathways that are activated by these inflammasomes, they will also uncover the fundamental principles that underlie the biology of these complexes,” Hornung explains. “The findings may well provide the basis for the development of new and innovative therapeutic strategies,” he adds.
Veit Hornung studied Medicine at LMU, led a Junior Research Group in the Department of Clinical Pharmacology at the LMU Medical Center and was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester (USA). In 2008 he was appointed Professor of Clinical Biochemistry at the University Medical Center in Bonn, where he later served as Director of the Institute of Molecular Medicine. He moved to LMU in 2015. This ERC Advanced Grant is the third ERC Grant that Hornung has received in the course of his career.