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Helmholtz Munich

Fernandez Lab

Immune networks in chronic lung diseases

Our scientific focus is to understand the contribution of the immune system to organ fibrosis. Fibrosis is a common final outcome of most chronic inflammatory diseases, especially chronic lung diseases.

Our scientific focus is to understand the contribution of the immune system to organ fibrosis. Fibrosis is a common final outcome of most chronic inflammatory diseases, especially chronic lung diseases.

Fibrosis - incurable and limited therapies

To date, as many as 45% of all deaths in the developed world are related to pathological tissue remodeling. Chronic lung diseases (CLD) are the 3rd leading cause of death worldwide. Among CLD, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) is a chronic and lethal fibroproliferative disease of the lung, with unknown etiology. IPF is characterized by progressive fibrosis and irreversible loss of lung function, with a median survival, or time to lung transplantation, of about 3 years after diagnosis. In many organs, innate and adaptive immunity contributes to fibrogenesis. Rising evidence shows that abnormal immune responses are implicated in IPF pathophysiology.

Project details

  • Functional assessment of interactions between mononuclear myeloid cells and lung structural cells
  • Identification of key ligand/receptor interactions in immune-structural lung cell crosstalk
  • Molecular characterization of in immune-structural lung cell interaction
  • Target evaluation in in-vitro models

Scientists at Fernandez Lab

Benteng Deng

PhD Student

Daniela Dietel

Senior Technical Assistant (TA)

Elisa Fiedler

Jianlong Jia

PhD Student

Dr. Andrea Schamberger

Post Doctoral Fellow

Dmytro Sirokha

Master Student

Lilith Trassl

Doctoral Student


2022, Scientific Article in Frontiers in Immunology

Lung epithelial CYP1 activity regulates aryl hydrocarbon receptor dependent allergic airway inflammation.

The lung epithelial barrier serves as a guardian towards environmental insults and responds to allergen encounter with a cascade of immune reactions that can possibly lead to inflammation. Whether the environmental sensor aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) together with its downstream targets cytochrome P450 (CYP1) family members contribute to the regulation of allergic airway inflammation remains unexplored. By employing knockout mice for AhR and for single CYP1 family members, we found that AhR-/- and CYP1B1-/- but not CYP1A1-/- or CYP1A2-/- animals display enhanced allergic airway inflammation compared to WT. Expression analysis, immunofluorescence staining of murine and human lung sections and bone marrow chimeras suggest an important role of CYP1B1 in non-hematopoietic lung epithelial cells to prevent exacerbation of allergic airway inflammation. Transcriptional analysis of murine and human lung epithelial cells indicates a functional link of AhR to barrier protection/inflammatory mediator signaling upon allergen challenge. In contrast, CYP1B1 deficiency leads to enhanced expression and activity of CYP1A1 in lung epithelial cells and to an increased availability of the AhR ligand kynurenic acid following allergen challenge. Thus, differential CYP1 family member expression and signaling via the AhR in epithelial cells represents an immunoregulatory layer protecting the lung from exacerbation of allergic airway inflammation.

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2022, Scientific Article in Cells

FK506-binding protein 11 is a novel plasma cell-specific antibody folding catalyst with increased expression in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Antibodies are central effectors of the adaptive immune response, widespread used therapeutics, but also potentially disease-causing biomolecules. Antibody folding catalysts in the plasma cell are incompletely defined. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a fatal chronic lung disease with increasingly recognized autoimmune features. We found elevated expression of FK506-binding protein 11 (FKBP11) in IPF lungs where FKBP11 specifically localized to antibodyproducing plasma cells. Suggesting a general role in plasma cells, plasma cell-specific FKBP11 expression was equally observed in lymphatic tissues, and in vitro B cell to plasma cell differentiation was accompanied by induction of FKBP11 expression. Recombinant human FKBP11 was able to refold IgG antibody in vitro and inhibited by FK506, strongly supporting a function as antibody peptidyl-prolyl cis-trans isomerase. Induction of ER stress in cell lines demonstrated induction of FKBP11 in the context of the unfolded protein response in an X-box-binding protein 1 (XBP1)-dependent manner. While deficiency of FKBP11 increased susceptibility to ER stressmediated cell death in an alveolar epithelial cell line, FKBP11 knockdown in an antibody-producing hybridoma cell line neither induced cell death nor decreased expression or secretion of IgG antibody. Similarly, antibody secretion by the same hybridoma cell line was not affected by knockdown of the established antibody peptidyl-prolyl isomerase cyclophilin B. The results are consistent with FKBP11 as a novel XBP1-regulated antibody peptidyl-prolyl cis-trans isomerase and indicate significant redundancy in the ER-resident folding machinery of antibody-producing hybridoma cells.

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2020, Scientific Article in European Respiratory Journal

CX3CR1-fractalkine axis drives kinetic changes of monocytes in fibrotic interstitial lung diseases.

Circulating immune cell populations have been shown to contribute to interstitial lung disease (ILD). In this study, we analysed circulating and lung resident monocyte populations, and assessed their phenotype and recruitment from the blood to the lung in ILD. Flow cytometry analysis of blood samples for quantifying circulating monocytes was performed in 105 subjects: 83 with ILD (n=36, n=28 and n=19 for nonspecific interstitial pneumonia, hypersensitivity pneumonitis and connective-tissue disease-associated ILD, respectively), as well as 22 controls. Monocyte localisation and abundance were assessed using immunofluorescence and flow cytometry of lung tissue. Monocyte populations were cultured either alone or with endothelial cells to assess fractalkine-dependent transmigration pattern. We show that circulating classical monocytes (CM) were increased in ILD compared with controls, while nonclassical monocytes (NCM) were decreased. CM abundance correlated inversely with lung function, while NCM abundance correlated positively. Both CCL2 and CX3CL1 concentrations were increased in plasma and lungs of ILD patients. Fractalkine co-localised with ciliated bronchial epithelial cells, thereby creating a chemoattractant gradient towards the lung. Fractalkine enhanced endothelial transmigration of NCM in ILD samples only. Immunofluorescence, as well as flow cytometry, showed an increased presence of NCM in fibrotic niches in ILD lungs. Moreover, NCM in the ILD lungs expressed increased CX3CR1, M2-like and phagocytic markers. Taken together, our data support that in ILD, fractalkine drives the migration of CX3CR1(+) NCM to the lungs, thereby perpetuating the local fibrotic process.

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2019, Scientific Article in Scientific Reports

Proteasome activator PA200 regulates myofibroblast differentiation.

The proteasome is essential for the selective degradation of most cellular proteins and is fine-tuned according to cellular needs. Proteasome activators serve as building blocks to adjust protein turnover in cell growth and differentiation. Understanding the cellular function of proteasome activation in more detail offers a new strategy for therapeutic targeting of proteasomal protein breakdown in disease. The role of the proteasome activator PA200 in cell function and its regulation in disease is unknown. In this study, we investigated the function of PA200 in myofibroblast differentiation and fibrotic tissue remodeling. PA200 was upregulated in hyperplastic basal cells and myofibroblasts of fibrotic lungs from patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Increased expression of PA200 and enhanced formation of PA200-proteasome complexes was also evident in experimental fibrosis of the lung and kidney in vivo and in activated primary human myofibroblasts of the lung in vitro. Transient silencing and overexpression revealed that PA200 functions as a negative regulator of myofibroblast differentiation of human but not mouse cells. Our data thus suggest an unexpected and important role for PA200 in adjusting myofibroblast activation in response to pro-fibrotic stimuli, which fails in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

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Dr. Isis E. Fernandez

Team Leader