Picture of Stefan Thomann. Photo: Helene Hemmer

Caught between friend and foe: the liver’s immune niche

Stefan Thomann investigates the interaction of liver and immune cells in hepatic diseases

The liver plays a major role in controlling immunotolerance, a state of unresponsiveness of the immune system. At the same time, as an excretory organ, it requires specific immunologic surveillance. But how do liver cells recruit, maintain, and regulate immune cells to provide this control? How do professional antigen-presenting cells of the immune system, such as conventional dendritic cells (cDCs), contribute? Are there differences within the liver architecture that enable cDC-mediated tolerance and, simultaneously, the induction of a rapid immunocompetent response at the onset of disease?

Stefan Thomann from the University of Würzburg is investigating these questions in his project at the Single-Cell Center Würzburg. To this end, he is analyzing the genome accessibility and RNA expression of cDCs in liver models at the single-cell level. The collaborations with Nuh Rahbari, Katja Breitkopf-Heinlein, and Armin Wiegering from the University Hospitals in Mannheim and Würzburg allow the validation in human patient cohorts. The research results will provide further insights into the human hepatic immunologic niche and thus form the basis for the development of new therapeutic and diagnostic methods.