To understand a complex organ like the immune system, it is helpful to analyse individual modes of function. The group therefore focuses on the function of natural killer cells.

Head of department
Prof. Dr. Carsten Watzl
Doris Teutsch
Ardeystr. 67
44139 Dortmund

Head of Department

Natural killer (NK) cells are part of the innate immune system and important for early and effective immune responses against infections and cancer. In addition, NK cells influence the function of the adaptive immune system through their activity and play an important role in immunoregulatory processes. Thus, NK cells fulfil a guardian function in the immune system.

NK cells represent a subset of innate lymphocytes and can kill virus-infected cells or tumour cells without prior activation. This process is called 'natural killing'. NK cells also regulate the immune response by secreting cytokines such as interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma). NK cell activity is controlled by the integration of positive and negative signals that the NK cell receives through different receptors on its surface. The researchers study the importance of the signal transduction of these different receptors for NK cell function and investigate how activating and inhibiting signals are integrated in the NK cell at the molecular level.

Another focus is on the analysis of the cytotoxic activity of NK cells. Here, the group investigates adhesion to tumour cells, the mechanisms of perforin/granzyme or death receptor-mediated cytotoxicity, the detachment of killed tumour cells, the 'serial killing' of NK cells and the influence of cell metabolism on these activities.

The main goal of the group is to better understand the regulation of these important immune cells and to find ways to manipulate NK cell activity to improve their use in immunotherapies against cancer.

Current projects

  • Influence of SARS-CoV-2 infection on NK cells
  • Activation of NK cells by different interferon alpha subtypes
  • Identification of 'serial killing' NK cells
  • Role of glycolysis in NK cell function
  • Role of different granzymes in the cytotoxic activity of NK cells
  • Mechanism of entry of granzyme B into tumour cells