Dr Leonie UnterholznerSenior Lecturer in Molecular Immunology
My research group is interested in how cells can detect foreign DNA, for example when skin cells have been infected by a virus. This is part of the innate immune response, which acts within the first few hours of infection, with the aim to alert more specialised immune cells, and to eliminate the virus before it can spread to other parts of the body. We are investigating how a cell can distinguish viral DNA from its own DNA genome, and how it signals to alert neighbouring cells. We also study how cells can detect their own DNA as danger signal, when the DNA has been damaged by UV light or chemotherapy.
Our work investigates molecular mechanisms that underlie the immune response during infection, autoimmunity and cancer.
Current projects in my laboratory focus on the molecular mechanisms of intracellular DNA recognition. Projects include:
- The function of the DNA sensors cGAS and IFI16 in detecting DNA in the cytosol
- The cell-intrinsic innate immune response to DNA damage
- The role of DNA sensing in cancer
- Immune evasion strategies employed by DNA viruses and Leishmania parasites
I currently teach on the 3rd year module BIOL321 Clinical Immunology and the masters level module BIOL434 Emerging Therapeutics in Immunology. I also supervise undergraduate and postgraduate students during their research projects. I am Director of Studies for postgraduate research students in the Division of Biomedical and Life Sciences, and am co-ordinating a skills and research career development program for PhD students and postdocs.
PhD Supervision Interests
My laboratory works on the innate immune system and host-pathogen interactions. We are particularly interested in the molecular mechanisms of how cells detect DNA in the cytosol, and how nuclear DNA damage and replication stress act as danger signal for the immune system. Some examples of potential Masters by Research projects are: 1. How do poxviruses evade detection by the innate immune system? 2. How is intracellular DNA detected as "stranger" and "danger" signal? 3. Has our innate immune system evolved from ancient anti-viral defences in Archaea? (joint project with Nick Robinson) 4. Does oncogene-induced replication stress drive inflammation in cancer? 5. How are DNA sensing factors activated in autoinflammatory conditions?
Epithelial cells as sentinels in innate immunity
01/10/2023 → 30/09/2024
STING signalling as link between DNA damaging therapies and innate immunity in bladder cancer
01/12/2022 → 30/11/2025
Talent and Research Stabilisation Fund 2022 (Leonie Unterholzner)
21/11/2022 → 31/03/2023
3 Year Research PhD Studentship: Modulation of the innate immune responses by DNAzymes
04/01/2021 → 30/04/2024
The role of innate immunity in the response to radiation-induced DNA damage in human skin cells
01/02/2019 → 30/04/2019
NWCR Equipment bid: Faxitron CellRad Irradiator
01/10/2018 → 31/03/2019
How does p53 link DNA damage to innate immunity?
01/01/2018 → 31/05/2021
Innate immune recognition of intracellular DNA as 'stranger' and 'danger' signal
01/01/2015 → 31/12/2018
Innate immune recognition of Herpes SImplex Virus in skin cells: Differences between neonatal and adult keratinocytes.
01/08/2014 → 28/02/2016
How do keratinocytes sense the presence of intracellular DNA?
01/02/2014 → 31/08/2015
Elucidating the molecular mechanism of intracellular DNA recognition by the innate immune sensor IFI16
01/02/2013 → 31/07/2018
Dr Abi Spear visiting Lancaster University
Types of Business and Community - Hosting of external, non-academic visitor
MRC Career Development Award
Fellowship awarded competitively
Marie Curie IntraEuropean Fellowship
Fellowship awarded competitively
- Cancer Biology and Genome Stability
- Microbes, Pathogens and Immunity