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Structure of Sialic Acid with Principal Investigators. Image: Martina Mühlenhoff

DFG Research Unit FOR 2953

First funding period 2019 - 2022

The overall goal of the DFG-Research Unit “Sialic Acid as Regulator in Development and Immunity” is to decipher fundamental sialoglycan functions at organismal, cellular, and molecular levels. The central concept of to this Research Unit is to combine analysis of developmental and immunological aspects of sialobiology in order to gain insight into their intricate interplay. Because of their complexity, glycans have often been overlooked, but it became evident that they play critical roles in numerous biological and disease processes. We will focus on glycans that are capped by sialic acids, an abundant glycan class characterized by a huge structural diversity. Sialic acids are key components in many cellular communication processes and serve as critical determinant for the recognition of self. Thus, changes in the sialylation pattern translate into alterations with potential aberrancies in self-recognition, tissue homeostasis and immunological tolerance. Due to the structural complexity of sialoglycans and their central role in both developmental and immunological processes, interdisciplinary approaches are mandatory for a full understanding of the essential role of sialoglycans. Therefore, the Research Unit combines complementary expertise from developmental biology, immunology, neurobiology, structural biology, biochemistry, and stem cell glycomics, to efficiently tackle key questions of sialobiology. A unique set of sialoglycan-specific mouse models, glyco-tools, and cutting-edge analytical methodologies will allow us to uncover how the multi-layered complexity of the sialome translates into biological functions. Our strategy will foster and exploit integrated approaches to catalyze advances in our understanding of processes at the cross-road of development and immunity such as (i) induction and maintenance of immunological tolerance, e.g. at the fetal-maternal interface, (ii) immune cell development, and (iii) long-term maintenance of tissue homeostasis. We expect that our research program will provide novel insight into sialoglycan functions that will help to better understand the impact of glycans in the development of pregnancy complications as well as autoimmune and age-related inflammatory diseases.

Principal Investigators

Dr. Birgit Weinhold

P1  |  Birgit Weinholdt

Dissecting the role of sialoglycans in embryonic development

Prof. Dr. Lars Nitschke

P2  |  Lars Nitschke

The importance of sialoglycans for lymphocyte development and function

Prof. Dr. Falk Nimmerjahn

P3  |  Falk Nimmerjahn

Impact of α2,6-linked sialic acids on B cell development and antibody function in vivo

Prof. Dr. Harald Neumann

P4  |  Harald Neumann

Protective role of sialic acid for sensory auditory neurons

Prof. Dr. Herbert Hildebrandt

P5  |  Herbert Hildebrandt

The role of polysialic acid shedding for the innate immune response


P6  |  Rita Gerardy-Schahn

Novel functions of polysialic acid in kidney and immune cell development

Dr. Anja Münster-Kühnel

P6  |  Anja Münster-Kühnel

Novel functions of polysialic acid in kidney and immune cell development

PD Dr. Martina Mühlenhoff

P7  |  Martina Mühlenhoff

Deciphering sialic acid O-acetylation

Prof. Dr. Thilo Stehle

P8  |  Thilo Stehle

Structural biology of polysialic acid recognition

apl. Prof. Dr. Falk Büttner

P9  |  Falk Büttner

Expanding the glycoanalytical toolbox: glycan profiling for the analysis of sialylated and neutral glycosphingolipids

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