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PD Dr. Stefanie Gilles

Group Leader Environmental Immunology
+49 821 598 6412Email meBuilding/Room: UK Augsburg, administrative building 3 / 034

"What makes an allergen an allergen?"

"What makes an allergen an allergen?"

Research Areas

Stefanie Gilles' mission is to decipher innate immune signatures that are necessary and sufficient to break peripheral tolerance and induce allergic sensitisation. This research will help to identify novel allergens, but it could also lead to the development of allergenicity bioassays that could replace animal models in the future.

A second focus is on the immune response of the nasal mucosa under simultaneous exposure to microbes and allergens, e.g. viruses and pollen. This is relevant because humans are never exposed to "isolated" allergens or viruses under real-life conditions, but to complex, mixed bioaerosols. Therefore, it is important to study the molecular immune system in the context of co-exposure. Research on cross-signalling between infection and allergy will point to currently underestimated risk exposures.

Stefanie Gilles studied biology at the LMU. After her PhD, she worked as a postdoc on TLR signalling in human dendritic cell subsets. In 2006, Dr Gilles joined the group of Prof. Traidl-Hoffmann at ZAUM - Centre for Allergy and Environment, TUM, where she started to work with dendritic cells in the context of pollen allergies.

In 2014, she moved to Augsburg with the new Chair of Environmental Medicine, UNIKA-T, where she started as a group leader. Since 2021 she has headed the Department of Environmental Immunology of the Chair of Environmental Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Augsburg. She has been associated with the Helmholtz Centre Munich as a visiting scientist from 2014 until today.

Dr. Gilles supervised 4 Bachelor, 5 Master, 5 PhD and 3 MD theses and has lectured in the field of allergology in the HELENA lecture series of the HMGU. She is currently involved in setting up the Environmental Health and Lung Research School at Helmholtz Munich.

Her current team in Augsburg consists of 3 PhD students, 3 MD students and a technician. The methods used are cell culture models, organoids, biomonitoring in human life and experimental exposure studies.

Fields of Work and Expertise

Innate Immunity  Allergic Rhinitis  Respiratory Viruses  Primary Cell Culture  Nasal Biomarkers  Dendritic Cells   Pollen  Human Biomonitoring  Allergen Challenge   Climate Change and Allergies  

Professional Career


Group leader Environmental Immunology, Environmental Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Augsburg


Habilitation in Experimental Allergology at the Technical University of Munich


Group leader Environmental Immunology, Chair of Environmental Medicine, UNIKA-T, Technical University of Munich


PhD at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich


Diploma in Biology at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich



Honors and Awards

  • 2015
    Travel Grant
    World Immune Regulation Meeting (WIRM)

  • 2011
    ‘Habilitation’ stipend Science Career II
    Technical University of Munich

  • 2007
    Best Oral Abstract
    26th Congress of the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI)

  • 2005
    HWP II Postdoctoral stipend
    Technical University of Munich

Gold Star Awards Luxury Background
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See all

2023 International Journal of Biometeorology

Ranpal S, von Bargen S, Gilles S, Luschkova D, Landgraf M, Traidl-Hoffmann C, Büttner C, Damialis A, Jochner-Oette S

Pollen production of downy birch (Betula pubescens Ehrh.) along an altitudinal gradient in the European Alps

High-altitude environments are highly susceptible to the effects of climate change. Thus, it is crucial to examine and understand the behaviour of specific plant traits along altitudinal gradients, which offer a real-life laboratory for analysing future impacts of climate change. The available information on how pollen production varies at different altitudes in mountainous areas is limited. In this study, we investigated pollen production of 17 birch (Betula pubescens Ehrh.) individuals along an altitudinal gradient in the European Alps. We sampled catkins at nine locations in the years 2020–2021 and monitored air temperatures. We investigated how birch pollen, flowers and inflorescences are produced in relation to thermal factors at various elevations. We found that mean pollen production of Betula pubescens Ehrh. varied between 0.4 and 8.3 million pollen grains per catkin. We did not observe any significant relationships between the studied reproductive metrics and altitude. However, minimum temperature of the previous summer was found to be significantly correlated to pollen (rs = 0.504, p = 0.039), flower (rs = 0.613, p = 0.009) and catkin (rs = 0.642, p = 0.005) production per volume unit of crown. Therefore, we suggest that temperature variability even at such small scales is very important for studying the response related to pollen production.

2023 Science of The Total Environment

Bayr D, Plaza MP, Gilles S, Kolek F, Leier-Wirtz V, Traidl-Hoffmann C, Damialis A

Pollen long-distance transport associated with symptoms in pollen allergics on the German Alps: An old story with a new ending?

Pollen grains are among the main causes of respiratory allergies worldwide and hence they are routinely monitored in urban environments. However, their sources can be located farther, outside cities' borders. So, the fundamental question remains as to how frequent longer-range pollen transport incidents are and if they may actually comprise high-risk allergy cases. The aim was to study the pollen exposure on a high-altitude location where only scarce vegetation exists, by biomonitoring airborne pollen and symptoms of grass pollen allergic individuals, locally. The research was carried out in 2016 in the alpine research station UFS, located at 2650 m height, on the Zugspitze Mountain in Bavaria, Germany. Airborne pollen was monitored by use of portable Hirst-type volumetric traps. As a case study, grass pollen-allergic human volunteers were registering their symptoms daily during the peak of the grass pollen season in 2016, during a 2-week stay on Zugspitze, 13-24 June. The possible origin of some pollen types was identified using back trajectory model HYSPLIT for 27 air mass backward trajectories up to 24 h. We found that episodes of high aeroallergen concentrations may occur even at such a high-altitude location. More than 1000 pollen grains m-3 of air were measured on the UFS within only 4 days. It was confirmed that the locally detected bioaerosols originated from at least Switzerland, and up to northwest France, even eastern American Continent, because of frequent long-distance transport. Such far-transported pollen may explain the observed allergic symptoms in sensitized individuals at a remarkable rate of 87 % during the study period. Long-distance transport of aeroallergens can cause allergic symptoms in sensitized individuals, as evidenced in a sparse-vegetation, low-exposure, 'low-risk' alpine environment. We strongly suggest that we need cross-border pollen monitoring to investigate long-distance pollen transport, as its occurrence seems both frequent and clinically relevant.

2023 Environmental Pollution

Gilles S, Meinzer M, Landgraf M, Kolek F, von Bargen S, Pack K, Charalampopoulos A, Ranpal S, Luschkova D, Traidl-Hoffmann C, Jochner-Oette S, Damialis A, Büttner C

Betula pendula trees infected by birch idaeovirus and cherry leaf roll virus: Impacts of urbanisation and NO2 levels

Viruses are frequently a microbial biocontaminant of healthy plants. The occurrence of the infection can be also due to environmental stress, like urbanisation, air pollution and increased air temperature, especially under the ongoing climate change. The aim of the present study was to investigate the hypothesis that worsened air quality and fewer green areas may favour the higher frequency of common viral infections, particularly in a common tree in temperate and continental climates, Betula pendula ROTH. We examined 18 trees, during the years 2015–2017, the same always for each year, in the region of Augsburg, Germany. By specific PCR, the frequency of two viruses, Cherry leaf roll virus (CLRV, genus Nepovirus, family Secoviridae), which is frequent in birch trees, and a novel virus tentatively named birch idaeovirus (BIV), which has been only recently described, were determined in pollen samples. The occurrence of the viruses was examined against the variables of urban index, air pollution (O3 and NO2), air temperature, and tree morphometrics (trunk perimeter, tree height, crown height and diameter). Generalized Non-linear models (binomial logit with backward stepwise removal of independent variables) were employed. During the study period, both CLRV and BIV were distributed widely throughout the investigated birch individuals. CLRV seemed to be rather cosmopolitan and was present independent of any abiotic factor. BIV's occurrence was mostly determined by higher values of the urban index and of NO2. Urban birch trees, located next to high-traffic roads with higher NO2 levels, are more likely to be infected by BIV. Increased environmental stress may lead to more plant viral infections. Here we suggest that this is particularly true for urban spaces, near high-traffic roads, where plants may be more stressed, and we recommend taking mitigation measures for controlling negative human interventions.

2023 European Journal of Immunology

Schülke S, Gilles S, Jirmo AC, Mayer JU

Tissue-specific antigen-presenting cells contribute to distinct phenotypes of allergy

Antigen-presenting cells (APCs) are critical cells bridging innate and adaptive immune responses by taking up, processing, and presenting antigens to naïve T cells. At steady state, APCs thus control both tissue homeostasis and the induction of tolerance. In allergies however, APCs drive a Th2-biased immune response that is directed against otherwise harmless antigens from the environment. The main types of APCs involved in the induction of allergy are dendritic cells, monocytes, and macrophages. However, these cell types can be further divided into local, tissue-specific populations that differ in their phenotype, migratory capacity, T-cell activating potential, and production of effector molecules. Understanding if distinct populations of APCs contribute to either tissue-specific immune tolerance, allergen sensitization, or allergic inflammation will allow us to better understand disease pathology and develop targeted treatment options for different stages of allergic disease. Therefore, this review describes the main characteristics, phenotypes, and effector molecules of the APCs involved in the induction of allergen-specific Th2 responses in affected barrier sites, such as the skin, nose, lung, and gastrointestinal tract. Furthermore, we highlight open questions that remain to be addressed to fully understand the contribution of different APCs to allergic disease.