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Hiepe/Alexander lab

New ways of approaching treatment of autoimmune diseases

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Selected Publications


Our research group is fundamentally involved in analysing the mechanisms which contribute to and help maintain severe autoimmune diseases in order to develop new therapeutic concepts.

Our main focus is on the role of long-lived autoreactive plasma cells in autoimmune diseases. Long-lived plasma cells reside in niches in the bone marrow and inflamed tissues, where they are resistant to immunosuppressive/cytotoxic drugs or therapies targeting B cells. In collaboration with the research group from Andreas Radbruch, we look for new therapeutic strategies targeting the autoreactive memory. We introduced the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib that depletes plasma cells in the treatment of refractory autoimmune diseases. We also learned that selective plasma cell depletion has to be combined with a therapy targeting the plasma cell precursors to prevent the generation of new plasma cells. Since all these therapies unselectively deplete plasma cells, regardless whether they secrete protective of pathogenic antibodies, we developed an affinity matrix technology for antigen-specific plasma cell depletion.  Recently, we could show for the first time that long-lived memory plasma cells can be depleted in an antigen-specific manner using this technology in a murine model. One current study is aimed to demonstrate an improvement of muscle weakness in a murine model of myasthenia gravis after the specific depletion of plasma cells secreting autoantibodies against the acetylcholine receptor.

Together with the Unit for Bone Marrow Transplantation (Renate Arnold) at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, and the research group of Andreas Thiel (BCRT), we demonstrated that the autoreactive memory could be eliminated by immunoablation followed by autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, in patients with severe autoimmune diseases that are refractory to conventional immunosuppression. In most cases this provided the basis for the subsequent regeneration of an intact immune system. In some patients, however, the disease relapsed, or secondary autoimmune disorders occurred. We investigate the reasons for this in a controlled clinical trial in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

In another project, we study the role of dendritic cells in SLE. These cells, in their function as antigen-presenting cells and producers of cytokines, play a significant role in the pathogenesis of SLE. As they are a potential target in the development of new therapies, their characterisation is of major relevance.

Several cytokines are involved in the pathogenesis of SLE and other systemic autoimmune diseases. In past and future clinical trials, we have studied biologics selectively targeting different cytokines or cells (e.g. BAFF/BLys, APRIL, type I interferon, IL-10, B cells, PDC, co-stimulatory molecules). We expect that these different therapeutic approaches will allow us to develop personalised therapies.

Along similar lines, we have developed several novel biomarkers, reflecting specific aspects of the pathogenesis of SLE. We have identified serologic (autoantibodies) and cellular biomarkers (Siglec1 expression on monocytes, B and T cell subpopulations in the peripheral blood and urinary immune cells). We believe these biomarkers will enable us to tailor make our treatment in the future for patients and broaden our understanding of the disease pathogenesis.

Memory plasma cells
Systemic autoimmune diseases
Cellular therapies
Autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation

Charité Liaison Group
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Group leader
Prof. Dr. med. Falk Hiepe
Dr. med. Tobia Alexander

Dr. Qingyu Cheng
PD Dr. med.Philipp Enghard
Dr. Manuela Frese-Schaper
Dr. rer. nat. Velia Gerl
Prof. Dr. med. Bimba F. Hoyer (Guest scientist)
Laleh Khodadadi, PhD
Dr. Thomas Rose

Ph. D. Students
Anne von Bülow
Hannah Brandt
Paul Freund
Nina Görlich
Jacob Kujat
Dominik Lammerding
Spyridon Lipka
Jonas Martin
Sarnai Naran
Lennard Ostendorf
Andreas Pelz
Veronika Scholz
Christopher Skopnik
Lydia Zorn

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Univ.-Prof. Dr. med. Renate Arnold, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, CVK, Med. Klinik m. S. Hämatologie, Onkologie und Tumorimmunologie, Berlin, Germany

Prof. Dr. Klemens Budde and Dr. Michael Dürr, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, CCM, Medizinische Klinik m.S. Nephrologie, Berlin, Germany

Prof. Dr. Richard Burt, Northwestern University, Department of Medicine, Division of Immunotherapy, Chicago, USA

Univ.-Prof. Dr. med. Thomas Dörner, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, CCM, Medizinische Klinik m.S. Rheumatologie und Klin. Immunologie, Berlin

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Peter M. Kloetzel, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Institut für Biochemie, Berlin, Germany

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Rudolf Manz, Universität zu Lübeck, Institut für Systemische Entzündungsforschung ISEF, Lübeck, Germany

Prof. Dr. Edgar Meinl, Institut für Klinische Neuroimmunologie, Ludwig Maximilian Universität München, Germany

Prof. Dr. Andreas Meisel and Dr. Siegfried Kohler, Klinik für Neurologie, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany

Prof. Dr. med. Thomas Porstmann, Seramun Diagnostica GmbH, Heidesee, Germany

Prof. Dr. Michael Reth, Max-Planck-Institut für Immunbiologie, Freiburg. Germany

Dr. Jürgen Schmitz, Dr. Andrzej Dzionek, Dr. Barbara Behle, Miltenyi Biotech, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany

Dr. Wolfgang Schlumberger, EUROIMMUN Medizinische Labordiagnostika AG, Lübeck, Germany

Prof. Dr. David Tarlinton, Walter und Eliza-Hall-Institut für Medizinische Forschung, Melbourne, Australia

Univ.-Prof. Dr. med. Reinhard E. Voll, Universitätsklinikum Freiburg, Med. Klinik, Abteilung Rheumatologie und Klinische Immunologie, Freiburg, Germany

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Hedda Wardemann, DKFZ, Heidelberg, Germany

Univ.-Prof. Dr. med. Margitta Worm, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, CCM, Klinik für Dermatologie, Venerologie und Allergologie, Berlin, Germany

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  1. Scheibe, F., H. Pruss, A. M. Mengel, S. Kohler, A. Numann, M. Kohnlein, K. Ruprecht, T. Alexander, F. Hiepe, and A. Meisel. 2017. Bortezomib for treatment of therapy-refractory anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Neurology 88: 366-370.
  2. Wilhelm, T. R., A. Taddeo, O. Winter, A. R. Schulz, J. N. Malzer, C. Domingo, R. Biesen, T. Alexander, A. Thiel, A. Radbruch, F. Hiepe, and V. Gerl. 2016. Siglec-1-positive plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) in human peripheral blood: A semi-mature and myeloid-like subset imbalanced during protective and autoimmune responses. Clin Immunol 163: 42-51.
  3. Hiepe, F., and A. Radbruch. 2016. Plasma cells as an innovative target in autoimmune disease with renal manifestations. Nat Rev Nephrol 12: 232-240.
  4. Taddeo, A., V. Gerl, B. F. Hoyer, H. D. Chang, S. Kohler, H. Schaffert, A. Thiel, A. Radbruch, and F. Hiepe. 2015. Selection and depletion of plasma cells based on the specificity of the secreted antibody. Eur J Immunol 45: 317-319.
  5. Khodadadi, L., Q. Cheng, T. Alexander, O. Sercan-Alp, J. Klotsche, A. Radbruch, F. Hiepe, B. F. Hoyer, and A. Taddeo. 2015. Bortezomib Plus Continuous B Cell Depletion Results in Sustained Plasma Cell Depletion and Amelioration of Lupus Nephritis in NZB/W F1 Mice. PloS one 10: e0135081.
  6. Alexander, T., R. Sarfert, J. Klotsche, A. A. Kuhl, A. Rubbert-Roth, H. M. Lorenz, J. Rech, B. F. Hoyer, Q. Cheng, A. Waka, A. Taddeo, M. Wiesener, G. Schett, G. R. Burmester, A. Radbruch, F. Hiepe, and R. E. Voll. 2015. The proteasome inhibitior bortezomib depletes plasma cells and ameliorates clinical manifestations of refractory systemic lupus erythematosus. Ann Rheum Dis 74: 1474-1478.
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