The immunological processes underlying myocardial disease are currently in the limelight of cardiology. In particular, immune checkpoint inhibitor-associated myocarditis and vaccine/virus-triggered inflammation of the myocardium pose challenges for diagnosis and treatment. The team of the Translational Cardioimmunology research group studies the interplay between immune and cardiac tissue cells with a particular focus on the role of fibroblasts in the myocardial inflammation.
Autoimmune responses against the heart-specific protein myosin heavy chain 6 (MYH6) are a main driver for the progression of acute to chronic cardiac inflammation. Our group studies to which extent specific bacteria are linked to the development of myocarditis and the progression to chronic cardiac inflammation.
Rejection of donor hearts due to immune-mediated destruction of cardiac tissue integrity is a major challenge, both in terms of diagnosis and patient-adjusted immune-suppressive treatment. The current standard for the assessment of cardiac damage via histopathological examination of endomyocardial biopsies provides only limited information about the cellular composition and activation states in the inflamed tissue. Single cell transcriptomics-based deep phenotyping of transplant rejection represents a solution to this conundrum.
The majority of individuals with acute myocarditis recover completely; but approximately 30% of individuals with myocarditis do not recover and progress to potentially lethal inflammatory cardiomyopathy and heart failure. Preclinical studies of our group have revealed that the progression of myocarditis to lethal inflammatory cardiomyopathy is associated with the formation of autoimmune Th17 cells cross-reacting with bacteria in the intestinal microbiome and the expression of specific HLA haplotypes. To further investigate the association between specific HLA haplotypes and cardiac-reactive/microbiota-activated T cells during the progression of acute myocarditis, the “ImmpathCarditis” has been initiated.