Principal Investigator: Jolanda Smit
My group’s research focuses on the pathogenesis of the globally most prevalent mosquito-borne viral infections. These include infections triggered by positive-sense single-stranded RNA viruses of the family Flaviviridae such as dengue virus (DENV) and West Nile virus (WNV), and Zika virus (ZIKV), and a member of family Togaviridae - chikungunya virus (CHIKV). The incidence and disease burden of all three viral infections have dramatically increased during the last decades due to major societal, ecological and economical changes, including massive urbanization, travel, lack of mosquito control, climate change and international trade. Dengue is currently the most common mosquito-borne viral disease worldwide, with an estimated 390 million infections annually. CHIKV re-emerged explosively in 2005-2006 afflicting millions of people in the Indian Ocean areas and ever since continues its rapid expansion. There are no specific treatments available to prevent or treat the diseases caused by ZIKV, WNV and CHIKV and no prognostic markers that would predict the development of severe or chronic manifestation of these infections.
Molecular interactions between the virus and the host
This research line aims at unravelling the molecular interactions between the virus and the host in order to guide the development of safe and efficacious vaccines and anti-viral drugs. Specifically, we focus on dissecting 1) the cell entry processes of virus particles 2) mechanisms involved in antibody-mediated neutralization and enhancement of infection, 3) molecular mechanisms, by which viruses hijack or counteract host cell defense mechanisms eg. stress granules and autophagy.
Immuno-pathogenesis of mosquito-borne viral (co)-infections
This research line focuses on understanding the mechanisms initiating and contracting inflammatory responses in course of DENV and CHIKV infections. Our objective is not only to delineate the immune-mechanisms initiated by the mono-infections but also these triggered by the epidemiologically and clinically relevant, yet understudied, co-infections.
Our efforts focus on 1) the role of immune cells in controlling and exacerbating DENV pathogenesis 2) the molecular immune-pathogenesis of CHIKV-mediated arthralgia/arthritis and ) the interplay of innate immune responses elicited during concurrent DENV and CHIKV infection. This research line is coordinated by dr. Izabela Rodenhuis-Zybert.
Note for students
Our viruses are categorized as Biosafety Level (BSL) 3 pathogens and thus the vast majority of our research is conducted at the BSL 3 laboratory. Therefore, students willing to do an internship with us, are required to have previous working experience within BSL 2 environment.