Cytomegalovirus (CMV) research group
Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a widespread pathogen, with 50-80% of the population being infected. Primary infection in healthy persons is usually asymptomatic, but life-threatening disease can occur in immunocompromised patients, especially in transplant recipients or AIDS patients. HCMV infection is also the most frequent viral infection during pregnancy, often leading to malformation of the fetus, typically resulting in deafness.
In order to make cytomegalovirus functions amenable to efficient genetic analysis we cloned the genomes of mouse and human cytomegalovirus as bacterial artificial chromosomes (BAC) in E.coli (Messerle et al., 1997; Borst et al., 1999). This allows us to manipulate the viral genomes by the powerful techniques of bacterial genetics and to generate viral mutants upon transfection of permissive eukaryotic cells with mutated BACs. By analyzing the phenotypes of the mutant viruses viral functions can be assigned to specific genes.
During the long co-evolution with their hosts, CMVs have developed various strategies to modulate important pathways of infected cells. Many viral functions enabling the viruses to exploit the host cells for their own ends are poorly understood or remain elusive. We are interested in the interaction of cytomegaloviruses with their host cells and the modulation of the immune response, particularly during persisting infection. Based on the knowledge of virus-cell interactions we are going to develop herpesviral vectors for vaccination and gene therapy. Not least, we investigate how infected cells support the assembly and the maturation of new CMV particles.