Research fields

Research field 1: Environmentally-induced cardiopulmonary aging

Aging processes of the cardiovascular system and the respiratory system are often induced by inhaled airborne pollutants. Degenerative processes like cellular senescence and organ aging can be triggered through the interaction of particles with cells of both organ systems or indirectly through the induction of inflammation processes. These processes are investigated in both organ systems – experimentally in vivo and in vitro as well as epidemiologically. Intervention studies on humans allow to elucidate connections between exposure and aging processes and to develop molecular preventive strategies for humans.

Haendeler research group

Schikowski research group
Schins research group
Team Unfried in the Krutmann research group

Research field 2: Environmentally-induced skin aging

Environmentally-induced aging processes of the skin are often induced by non-ionizing radiation. In this context, the IUF was the first to show that besides UV also infrared radiation is involved. However, epidemiological studies of the IUF in Germany and China indicate that skin aging can also be induced by air pollutants. In contrast to mainly genetically defined, intrinsic aging processes, extrinsic aging processes can be preventively influenced. The research projects deal with the elucidation of underlying molecular mechanisms of extrinsic aging processes and the development of corresponding molecular-based preventive strategies.

Haarmann-Stemmann research group

Krutmann research group
Reinke research group
Schikowski research group
Weighardt research group
Team Boukamp in the AG Krutmann

Research field 3: Environmentally-induced disturbances of the central nervous system

Environmentally-induced disturbances of the central nervous system are relevant for all stages of life. Cognitive impairment can occur at the beginning of life, e.g. due to misdirected brain development, as well as in aging, e.g. as premature brain aging processes. IUF therefore performs specific projects regarding (i) environmentally-induced disturbances of brain development (so called developmental neurotoxicity (DNT)) and (ii) environmentally-induced neurodegenerative or brain aging processes. This work focuses on species dependent effects of environmental noxae, in particular between nematodes, rodents and humans.

Fritsche research group
Heuer research group
von Mikecz research group
Schikowski research group
Schins research group
Ventura research group

Research field 4: Environmentally-induced disturbances of the immune system

The immune system protects the body among other things against infections and is influenced by a variety of sensors for pathogens and pollutants. The IUF investigates the mechanisms through which noxious agents cause immunotoxic effects and e.g. are involved in the pathogenesis of misdirected immune reactions like autoimmune or allergic diseases. We are particularly interested in environmentally-induced aging processes of the immune system and in the role of particular components of the innate immune system in environmentally-induced organ aging. One main focus is on the role of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) as a universal sensor in environmentally-induced stress responses.

Esser research group
Krutmann research group
Weighardt research group

Integrated research programs (IGRP)

The content of the IUF’s research fields (see above) is each executed by several groups, mostly in joint research projects. To further enhance the degree of networking and to promote innovative project ideas, the IUF originated the instrument of integrated research programs. So far, two of these transversal research structures on the topics “Particle research” and “Aryl hydrocarbon receptor and skin” accomplish successful research work. The programs are accompanied and regularly evaluated by the scientific advisory board.

Particle toxicology

Several working groups within the IUF have a profound expertise in the field of particle toxicology. Based on this core, an integrated research program was established, in which additional expertise of other working groups in the fields of cell biology, immunology, dermatology and aging research were bundled in order to investigate the influence of particles on human health. The combination of complementary research areas allows the mechanistic investigation of the effects of modern nanoparticles at different levels. Besides in vitro and cell culture systems, in particular wild type and transgene in vivo models are used, including modern C. elegans approaches. Additionally, human intervention studies are used to verify mechanistic results. Moreover, epidemiological findings are further analyzed in mechanistic systems.

Aryl hydrocarbon receptor and skin

In close cooperation scientists of several working groups the IUF could show for the model organ skin that the AhR functions as universal sensor for environmental noxious agents. The AhR was proven to be present in all cell populations of the skin und it was shown that it regulates essential functions for the organ skin e.g. the formation of the skin barrier, the development of a functional skin immune system or skin pigmentation. At the IUF, it was demonstrated for the first time that exposure of the skin to UVB activates the AhR which is subsequently involved considerably in the development of skin cancer and in skin aging. In this context, a series of skin cell type specific AhR knock-out mice models were developed as well as the first topical applicable AhR antagonist that is approved for humans. Current investigations focus on the modulation of the AhR system in the prevention and therapy of environmentally-induced skin diseases.