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Unit 17: Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses

Thorsten Wolff
Ralf Dürrwald

The unit is responsible for the surveillance of and research into influenza viruses and other major respiratory viral pathogens in Germany. The virological surveillance of circulating influenza viruses is carried out by the National Reference Centre for Influenza, which is part of the unit, within the framework of the National German Influenza Working Group. Every year up to 5,000 samples from patients with influenza-like illness are investigated here, which are sent by the sentinel network of general practitioners and paediatricians. Since the 2010/2011 season the samples are investigated on a routine basis also for the presence of respiratory syncytial viruses. Diagnostic typing/subtypings, sequencing and antigenic characterisation of circulating viruses enable a rapid detection of antigenic drift variants and mutant viruses resistant against licensed antiviral agents. Furthermore, the unit conducts complementary molecular virological studies to investigate the viral gene functions that control the virulence, tropism and host specificity of human and animal pathogenic influenza viruses. A specific focus is on the contribution of host factors of virus propagation and viral mechanisms that sabotage innate immune defences. The activities of the unit are integrated into the European Influenza Surveillance Network (EISN) and support the annual vaccine recommendations by WHO. At the same time they contribute to a better understanding of viral pathogens and the derivation of new strategies for the prophylaxis and therapy of respiratory virus diseases.

Tasks, Projects

Surveillance and molecular epidemiology

  • Execution of tasks within the framework of the National Reference Centre Influenza and participation in global influenza surveillance: Influenza Network of the WHO, European Influenza Surveillance Network (EISN)
  • Virological surveillance within the National German Working Group Influenza
  • Influenza surveillance and sentinel programmes: isolation, typing and subtyping of influenza viruses
  • Characterisation of influenza viruses with regard to their antigenic profile and the genetic drift
  • Studies on resistance development and characterisation of resistant influenza viruses
  • Molecular epidemiology of other respiratory virus infections (e.g. RSV, HMPV, HRV)

Molecular pathogenesis

  • Characterisation of gene functions of the influenza virus to suppress defence reactions of innate immunity
  • Analyses of host specificity and tropism of human and animal pathogenic influenza viruses
  • Studies on cellular signalling pathways in cells infected with influenza viruses
  • Identification and investigation of host factors of influenza viruses
  • Development of new approaches to the therapy and prophylaxis of virus influenza

The unit is actively involved in various research and educational networks:

Date: 27.12.2017


  • Weinheimer VK, Becher A, Tönnies M, Holland G, Knepper J, Bauer TT, Schneider P, Neudecker J, Rückert JC, Szymanski K, Temmesfeld-Wollbrueck B, Gruber AD, Bannert N, Suttorp N, Hippenstiel S, Wolff T, Hocke AC (2012): Influenza A viruses target type II pneumocytes in the human lung.
    J. Infect. Dis. 206 (11): 1685-1694. Epub Jul 24. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jis455. more

  • Corman VM, Müller MA, Costabel U, Timm J, Binger T, Meyer B, Kreher P, Lattwein E, Eschbach-Bludau M, Nitsche A, Bleicker T, Landt O, Schweiger B, Drexler JF, Osterhaus AD, Haagmans BL, Dittmer U, Bonin F, Wolff T, Drosten C (2012): Assays for laboratory confirmation of novel human coronavirus (hCoV-EMC) infections.
    Euro Surveill. 17 (49): pii: 20334. more

  • Rath B, von Kleist M, Tief F, Karsch K, Tuerk E, Muehlhans S, Louis F, Skopnik H, Schweiger B, Duwe S (2012): Virus load kinetics and resistance development during oseltamivir treatment in infants and children infected with influenza A (H1N1) 2009 and influenza B viruses.
    Pediatr. Infect. Dis. J. 31 (9): 899-905. Epub May 10. doi: 10.1097/INF.0b013e31825c7304. more

  • Duwe S, Wedde M, Birkner P, Schweiger B (2011): Genotypic and phenotypic resistance of pandemic A/H1N1 influenza viruses circulating in Germany.
    Antiviral Res. 89 (1): 115–118. Epub 2010 Nov 9. doi:10.1016/j.antiviral.2010.11.001. more

  • Abt M, de Jonge J, Laue M, Wolff T (2011): Improvement of H5N1 influenza vaccine viruses: Influence of internal gene segments of avian and human origin on production and hemagglutinin content.
    Vaccine 29 (32): 5153-5162. Epub May 30. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2011.05.036. more

  • Linke S, Neubauer K, Dorner MB, Dorner BG, Pauli G, Schweiger B (2011): Generation and characterisation of monoclonal antibodies against influenza virus A, subtype H5N1.
    J. Virol. Methods 175 (1): 85-94. Epub Apr 28. 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

  • Zielecki F, Semmler I, Kalthoff D, Voss D, Mauel S, Gruber AD, Beer M, Wolff T (2010): Virulence determinants of avian H5N1 influenza A virus in mammalian and avian hosts: The role of the C-terminal ESEV motif in the viral NS1 protein.
    J. Virol. 84 (20): 10708-10718. Epub Aug 4. more

  • Biere B, Schweiger B (2010): Human adenoviruses in respiratory infections: Sequencing of the hexon hypervariable region reveals high sequence variability.
    J. Clin. Virol. 47 (4): 366-371. Epub Feb 9. more

  • Schulze M, Nitsche A, Schweiger B, Biere B (2010): Diagnostic approach for the differentiation of the pandemic influenza A(H1N1)v virus from recent human influenza viruses by real-time PCR.
    PLoS One 5 (4): e9966. more

  • Dauber B, Martínez-Sobrido L, Schneider J, Hai R, Waibler Z, Kalinke U, García-Sastre A, Wolff T (2009): Influenza B virus ribonucleoprotein is a potent activator of the antiviral kinase PKR.
    PLoS Pathog. 5 (6): e1000473. Epub Jun 12. more

  • Reiche J, Schweiger B (2009): Genetic variability of group A human respiratory syncytial virus strains circulating in Germany from 1998 to 2007.
    J. Clin. Microbiol. 47 (6): 1800-1810. Epub Apr 22. more

  • Wolff T, Ludwig S (2009): Influenza viruses control the vertebrate type I interferon system: factors, mechanisms, and consequences.
    J. Interferon Cytokine Res. 29 (9): 549-558. more