06 May 2016 - PRESS RELEASE

Ebola: fatal course of disease has characteristic immune response

In a treatment centre in Guinea, DZIF researchers from the Heinrich Pette Institute (HPI) and the Bernhard Nocht Institute (BNITM) have, for the first time, identified the human immune response in Ebola patients—from the time of admission to the time of discharge or death. They discovered a characteristic immune signature which especially occurs in patients with a fatal course of disease. The results are now published in the renowned journal "Nature".


Cesar Munoz-Fontela (HPI) in Guinea© Heinrich-Pette-Institut

At the end of 2014, the DZIF initiated the consortium EBOKON to strengthen Ebola research, which has made major contributions to the success of this project. In particular, EBOKON acquired the required analysis equipment in Africa and Hamburg. Since the start of the Ebola outbreak in March 2014, scientists have been in the field with the "European Mobile Laboratory" (EMLab) and have collected blood samples from Ebola patients over a long period of time.

For the sample analysis, the researchers concentrated on specific immune cells, so-called CD4 and CD8 positive T lymphocytes, as well as on the molecules they produce called CTLA-4 and PD-1. While the T cells were elevated independent of the course of disease, CTLA-4 and PD-1 were significantly higher in patients with a fatal course of disease than in patients who survived. The higher values were accompanied by elevated inflammatory markers and a high virus load.

For the scientists, this result suggests that a dysregulation of the T cell response plays an important role in the fatal course of disease.

For the full press release, go to Heinrich Pette Institute


Ruibal, P. et al: Unique human immune signature of Ebola virus disease in Guinea. Nature 533, 100-104 (2016)


Prof Stephan Günther
Bernhard Nocht Institute für Tropical Medicine, Hamburg

Dr. César Munoz-Fontela

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