Barbara Rehermann, M.D.

Senior Investigator

Immunology Section, Liver Diseases Branch

NIDDK

Building 10, Room 9B16C
10 Center Drive
Bethesda, MD 20814

301-402-7144

barbarar@intra.niddk.nih.gov

Research Topics

Research Goal

The long-term goal of this program is the development of vaccines to prevent infections and immunotherapies to modulate the progression of chronic liver disease.      

Current Research

My research interests include the study of innate and adaptive immune responses to viral infections, in particular infections of the liver.  Much of my work has focused on hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) infections, which affect about 500 million people worldwide.  The spectrum of disease ranges from acute to chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma.  Although HBV infection can be prevented by a vaccine, there is still no curative treatment for most who are already chronically infected because antiviral agents do not eliminate the transcriptional template of HBV, the covalently closed circular DNA.  For HCV, a vaccine has not yet been developed.

A major emphasis of my research program has been the identification of innate and adaptive immune responses that mediate viral clearance and the analysis of mechanisms of viral immune evasion.  My laboratory is also studying immunological mechanisms responsible for the progression of chronic liver disease and mechanisms mediating liver-specific tolerance.  We employ multidisciplinary approaches that include the study of biological samples from patients who are being followed by the NIDDK Liver Diseases Branch, as well as mouse models of liver infection (LCMV) and virological in vitro models.​

Applying our Research

This research will help decrease the burden of liver disease—in particular, chronic viral hepatitis—and the long-term consequences of chronic inflammation of the liver such as cancer.  In addition, the basic immunological mechanisms that are being studied may be relevant to other diseases; for example, what we learn from the immune responses against hepatitis viruses can inform research on other pathogens and tumors that are also targeted by the immune system.

Need for Further Study

In both HBV and HCV infections, chronic liver disease is thought to be immune-mediated.  The rate of liver disease progression to liver cirrhosis varies greatly among infected individuals, and the factors that regulate inflammation and disease progression are largely unknown.  In particular, my laboratory is interested in analyzing the role of innate immune responses—in particular those mediated by innate cytokines and natural killer cells—in chronic liver inflammation.

The liver is known to have tolerogenic capacities that downregulate immune responses to gut-derived antigens and, upon organ transplantation, to organs that are cotransplanted with the liver.  Following up on observations that the laboratory made in patients, we are now studying tolerance mechanisms in the liver. 

Biography

  • Chief and Senior Investigator, Immunology Section, Liver Diseases Branch, NIDDK, NIH, 2004-present
  • Habilitation, Privatdozent of Immunology, Medizinische Hochschule, 1999
  • Head and Tenure-Track Investigator, Immunology Section, Liver Diseases Branch, NIDDK, NIH, 1998-2004
  • Habilitation, Privatdozent of Immunology, Medizinische Hochschule, 1999Clinical Fellow and Independently Funded Investigator, Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology, Medizinische Hochschule, 1998
  • Postdoctoral Research Associate, Laboratory of Dr. Francis V. Chisari, The Scripps Research Institute, 1993-1995
  • Medical Intern and Resident, Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology, Medizinische Hochschule, 1993
  • M.D., Medizinische Hochschule, 1991

Selected Publications

  1. Serti E, Chepa-Lotrea X, Kim YJ, Keane M, Fryzek N, Liang TJ, Ghany M, Rehermann B. Successful Interferon-Free Therapy of Chronic Hepatitis C Virus Infection Normalizes Natural Killer Cell Function. Gastroenterology. 2015;149(1):190-200.e2.

  2. Park SH, Rehermann B. Immune responses to HCV and other hepatitis viruses. Immunity. 2014;40(1):13-24.

  3. Serti E, Werner JM, Chattergoon M, Cox AL, Lohmann V, Rehermann B. Monocytes activate natural killer cells via inflammasome-induced interleukin 18 in response to hepatitis C virus replication. Gastroenterology. 2014;147(1):209-220.e3.

  4. Park SH, Veerapu NS, Shin EC, Biancotto A, McCoy JP, Capone S, Folgori A, Rehermann B. Subinfectious hepatitis C virus exposures suppress T cell responses against subsequent acute infection. Nat Med. 2013;19(12):1638-42.

  5. Rehermann B, Bertoletti A. Immunological aspects of antiviral therapy of chronic hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus infections. Hepatology. 2015;61(2):712-21.


This page was last updated on December 3rd, 2015