Seasonal influenza represents a constant burden to public health, and influenza pandemics caused by new virus strains pose a serious global threat.
The influenza virus causes damage to the infected lung tissue and induces an immune response which is necessary to eliminate the virus but contributes to lung pathology. A common complication of influenza is bacterial co-infection, which is associated with severe disease. Which factors tip the balance between damage or death versus successful clearance of virus and bacteria is not yet understood.
Our work aims to identify which features of the host determine the outcome of disease in influenza and in coinfection. We focus on early events after infection, and in particular on the interface between the infected epithelium and the immune system. We have established a culture system of mouse and human airway epithelium, the primary target of influenza virus, and use this system to study responses to infection with influenza virus and exposure to bacteria. Complemented by in vivo studies, this approach allows us to identify early events that pave the way for immune-mediated pathology or protection.