Intracellular transport of viral structures

Research project
Active research
Project owner
Institute of Biomedicine

Short description

Michael Kann's research group tries to understand the interactions restricting viral infections. We analyse three different viruses, adeno-associated viruses (AAV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and SARS-CoV-2. While AAVs and HBV are investigated by time-lapse microscopy, HBV and SARS-CoV-2 are analysed by signatures in their genomes, which signify restrictions by the host’s innate immune response.

We analyse three viruses, which are biologically and medically different: AAV are single stranded DNA viruses and do not cause any disease, despite causing chronic infections. They are thus the major platform for gene therapy: There are currently three licensed drugs for treatment of rare genetic diseases available. They are, however, very inefficient, meaning that hundreds of viruses are required for infecting a single cell. Likely, inefficiency is caused by inefficient transport of the genome from the cell periphery into the nucleus and not the hosts’ innate immune response counteracting infection. The aim of our research is the understanding of the restricting factors by using time-lapse microscopy in combination with genome-wide screening of restricting host factors.

HBV – in contrast to AAVs – are pathogenic and cause acute, fulminant and chronic infections, which are spontaneously cleared with low frequency of c. 1% per year. Chronic infections lead to liver cirrhosis and are the major cause for human hepatocellular carcinoma. HBV also comprises a DNA genome but of partially double stranded nature, and is - in contrast - extremely efficient. As AAV, it replicates in the nucleus of the cell and the nuclear DNA is very stable and cannot be targeted by current treatments. Our aim is the understanding of virus efficiency and the fate of the genome upon cell division. We address these questions by time-lapse microscopy similar to our studies on AAVs. We further investigate parts of the innate immune response, which may lead to spontaneous clearance of chronic infection. Our focus is deaminations of the viral genome, which may introduce a critical number of mutations, leading to mutated HBV with lower fitness. This is analysed by full-genome deep sequencing of hepadnaviral genomes and correlating the findings with the clinical parameters of the patients.

In a similar way, we are analysing the deamination of SARS-CoV-2, which is an RNA virus replicating exclusively in the cytoplasm. We recently showed that increased deamination is correlated with a decreased viral load and with inflammation in the host.


Group members

Maria Johansson

Gustaf Rydell

Luisa Fernanda

Bustamante Jaramillo

Joshua Fingal

Research portrait

Navigate to video: Michael Kann presents his research
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Michael Kann presents his research