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Unit 19: Sexually Transmitted Bacterial Pathogens

Dagmar Heuer
Sebastian Banhart


Dr. Lukas Aeberhard
Dr. Sebastian Banhart
Dipl. Biochem. Sophia Koch
Laura Rose, M.Sc.
Dipl. Biotech. Andrea Martini


Chlamydiae are obligate intracellular bacterial pathogens. With more than 90 million new infections per year worldwide, they are amongst the most frequent sexually transmitted bacteria. In women C. trachomatis infections can cause serious complications which can lead to infertility or ectopic pregnancies. In addition, there are infections with zoonotic Chlamydiae (ornithoses), which can cause severe disease such as pneumonia. Apart from their significance as pathogens, Chlamydiae have an intimate relationship with their host and are able to reprogram the infected cell, which makes them an attractive model organisms to investigate such changes.

The goal of our work is the de-coding of specific pathogen host interactions which permit a deeper understanding of the molecular mechanisms of infections and virulence as well as of fundamental cellular processes such as lipid transport. Our work focuses on the sophisticated mechanisms which allow intracellular bacteria to set up their niche within the host cell and maintain it in order to have access to nutrients which are vital for them, such as sphingolipids or iron. Based on our findings, we aim to derive new anti-microbial strategies.

A review article on the topic can be found here.


It is interesting to note that not only for Chlamydiae infections but also for infections with other human pathogens such as Salmonella spp or Toxoplasma gondii a structural change and recruitment of the Golgi apparatus (GA) to the bacterial/parasitic inclusions (see photo) can be observed. In how far this influences the pathogen propagation and supply with nutrients such as sphingolipids is hardly understood so far.

In future works we want to understand how Chlamydiae fragment and recruit the Golgi apparatus, how they take up lipids, mainly sphingolipids and whether this is an adaptation to the human host. In our work we focus on the following three core areas:

  1. The mechanism of Golgi fragmentation and its relevance for sphingolipid transport to Chlamydiae,
  2. the bacterial and cellular factors which are involved in the development and maintenance of the chlamydial inclusion,
  3. the molecular basis of the host cell specificity of human and zoonotic Chlamydiae within the framework of the collaborative research project “Zoonotic Chlamydiae”.

Third-party funded projects

Date: 01.04.2017


  • Christian JG, Heymann J, Paschen SA, Vier J, Schauenburg L, Rupp J, Meyer TF, Häcker G, Heuer D (2011): Targeting of a chlamydial protease impedes intracellular bacterial growth.
    PLoS Pathog. 7 (9): e1002283. Epub Sep 29. more

  • Mehlitz A, Banhart S, Mäurer AP, Kaushansky A, Gordus AG, Zielecki J, Macbeath G, Meyer TF (2010): Tarp regulates early Chlamydia-induced host cell survival through interactions with the human adaptor protein SHC1.
    J. Cell Biol. 190 (1): 143–157. doi: 10.1083/jcb.200909095. more

  • Karlas A, Machuy N, Shin Y, Pleissner KP, Artarini A, Heuer D, Becker D, Khalil H, Ogilvie LA, Hess S, Mäurer AP, Müller E, Wolff T, Rudel T, Meyer TF (2010): Genome-wide RNAi screen identifies human host factors crucial for influenza virus replication.
    Nature 463 (7282): 818-822. Epub Jan 17. more

  • Rejman Lipinski A, Heymann J, Meissner C, Karlas A, Brinkmann V, Meyer TF, Heuer D (2009): Rab6 and Rab11 regulate Chlamydia trachomatis development and golgin-84-dependent Golgi fragmentation.
    PLoS Pathog. 5 (10): e1000615. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000615. more

  • Heuer D , Rejman Lipinski A, Machuy N, Karlas A, Wehrens A, Siedler F, Brinkmann V, Meyer TF (2009): Chlamydia causes fragmentation of the Golgi compartment to ensure reproduction.
    Nature 457: 731-735.