Johan Sandberg group

Cellular immune responses play an important role in protection from viral infections. These responses can also, however, contribute to the immunopathogenesis of chronic viral infections such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1 and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections.

Another aspect of the complex relationship between host and pathogen is that most viruses have developed immune evasive mechanisms to avoid detection and elimination by the host cellular immune responses. Our research aims at understanding the nature and balance between protection, pathology and immune evasion during acute and chronic stages of viral infections.

We are particularly interested in HIV-1 infection, but we also study aspects of other chronic viral infections such as HCV and herpes simplex virus (HSV) where immune evasion mechanisms are significant. Another layer of complexity is added by vaccines, antiviral and immunomodulatory treatments used today and in development. These we bring in to our studies to learn lessons about the treatments as such, as well as about the basic immunology that we can learn from how the immune system responds to such treatments.

Keywords: T cells, NK cells, NKT cells, MAIT cells, CD1d, MR1


Johan K. Sandberg, PhD, Professor, Group leader. Phone: +46-8 58583298. Mobile phone: +46-70 7930885

Edwin Leeansyah, PhD, Assistant Professor. 
Phone: +46-858581158

I joined Johan Sandberg's group as a postdoc in 2010 to study MAIT cells development and functional heterogeneity in humans, and the role of MAIT cells in chronic viral infections. I'm currently based at Program in Emerging Infectious Diseases, Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore. In my present work, I seek to understand how MAIT cells distinguish pathogenic bacteria from the commensal microbiota, and their roles during the course of bacterial infections. 

Jean-Baptiste Gorin, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow 

After obtaining my PhD on the effect of radiation on the immune response to cancer at the University of Nantes in 2013, I decided to study the immune system in a different setting and recently joined Johan Sandberg’s group to investigate MAIT cell dysfunction in chronic viral infections.

David Malone, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow. Phone: +46-858581158
David received his PhD in Medical Science from the Karolinska Institutet in 2016. His thesis examined the role of Natural Killer (NK) cells during chronic hepatitis and HIV infections, and the effects that IFNα therapy has upon NK cell function. David's current work as a PostDoc focuses on the immunomodulatory effects of new HCV therapies, particularly in relation to fibrosis recovery. 

Caroline Boulouis, PhD student

I am doctor of pharmacy, graduated from the University of
Montpellier, in the South of France. I joined Johan Sandberg's group early 2016 to study MAIT cell in context of bacterial infection. 

Joana Dias, PhD student

I obtained my Master degree in Bioengineering in 2012 at the University of Porto, in Portugal. I am now a PhD student in Johan Sandberg’s group studying the immunobiology and heterogeneity of the MAIT cell population. In my free time, I love climbing and reading.

Kerri Lal, PhD student
I am a doctoral student that joined the Sandberg lab in 2015, and conduct a majority of my research in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Military HIV Research Program. My project seeks to understand the role of MAIT cells in acute HIV infection by measuring changes in phenotype, functionality, and the transcriptional profile of these cells at different stages in acute infection.

Proscovia Naluyima Sekiziyivu, MSc, PhD student. 
I´m studying the ‘role of innate cellular immune functions through the course of HIV-1 natural infection in Ugandans’. I am also a research scientist with Makerere University Walter Reed Project, Kampala, Uganda, where I participate in clinical monitoring of HIV patients, the development of assays used to evaluate immune profiles of both treated and untreated HIV-infected persons, and immune responses of HIV vaccine recipients. 

Michal Sobkowiak, PhD student

I received my Master's degree from Karolinska Institutet in 2012. Having done my thesis research in Sandberg group, I decided to stay and pursue a doctoral degree. My primary research interests are viral immune evasion and T cell biology.


Invariant T cell populations in health and viral disease

The first broad aim of our research efforts is to understand the role that invariant T cell populations play during viral infections. Here we focus on two types of cells: the invariant natural killer T (NKT) cells, and the mucosa-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells. These cells recognize antigen presented by the non-polymorphic and evolutionarily conserved MHC-like molecules CD1d and MR1, respectively. These molecules present endogenous or pathogen-derived antigens to rapidly activate NKT and MAIT cells in an innate-like fashion. We are investigating the protective and immune-pathogenic role these cell types play during infections with three different viruses: HIV-1, HCV, and HSV.

Qualitative aspects of successful and unsuccessful CD8 T cell responses

In a second broad aim we want to understand specific aspects of the human CD8 T cell response to viral infection. We are investigating the live attenuated yellow fever virus (YFV) vaccine as a model for acute viral infection, and study the evolution of the YFV-specific T cell response in humans. The YFV vaccine gives good protection and the response induced can be viewed as an example of successful immune response. The opposite can be said about HIV infection where, in the long run, the T cell response is unsuccessful. Here we investigate differences in T cell responses between infection with viral subtypes that differ with regard to disease progression.

Natural killer cells in viral disease

In a third broad aim we examine the role of NK cell responses during viral infection, notably HIV-1 and HCV infections. One focus here is the genesis and role of aberrant populations of NK cells in these infections. Another focus is the cause and consequence of receptor repertoire changes in NK cells during these infections.

Chronic immune activation in HIV-1 pathogenesis

Persistent immune activation is recognized as a major driver of HIV-1 pathogenesis. The mechanisms involved are still not fully understood, and here we aim to help clarify the role that adaptive and innate immune responses play in the pathologic immune activation. We are also investigating the role of co-infections in this context, with a particular focus on the role that HCV might play in HIV-1 infected patients.

Financial support:

  • The Swedish Research Council
  • The Swedish Cancer Society
  • The US National Institutes of Health
  • The Swedish Medical Doctors Against AIDS Foundation
  • In addition, group members hold fellowships from Karolinska Institutet and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research


  • University of California
  • US Military HIV Research Program
  • Makerere University
  • University of Sao Paulo
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • The George Washington University
  • as well as several other national and international collaborators

Selected publications

Human MAIT-cell responses to Escherichia coli: activation, cytokine production, proliferation, and cytotoxicity.
Dias J, Sobkowiak M, Sandberg J, Leeansyah E
J. Leukoc. Biol. 2016 Jul;100(1):233-40

Innate Invariant NKT Cell Recognition of HIV-1-Infected Dendritic Cells Is an Early Detection Mechanism Targeted by Viral Immune Evasion.
Paquin-Proulx D, Gibbs A, Bächle S, Checa A, Introini A, Leeansyah E, et al
J. Immunol. 2016 Sep;197(5):1843-51

MAIT cells reside in the female genital mucosa and are biased towards IL-17 and IL-22 production in response to bacterial stimulation.
Gibbs A, Leeansyah E, Introini A, Paquin-Proulx D, Hasselrot K, Andersson E, et al
Mucosal Immunol 2016 Apr;():

Involvement of a C-terminal motif in the interference of primate lentiviral Vpu proteins with CD1d-mediated antigen presentation.
Bächle S, Sauter D, Sibitz S, Sandberg J, Kirchhoff F, Moll M
Sci Rep 2015 Apr;5():9675

Arming of MAIT Cell Cytolytic Antimicrobial Activity Is Induced by IL-7 and Defective in HIV-1 Infection.
Leeansyah E, Svärd J, Dias J, Buggert M, Nyström J, Quigley M, et al
PLoS Pathog. 2015 Aug;11(8):e1005072

HIV Type 1 Disease Progression to AIDS and Death in a Rural Ugandan Cohort Is Primarily Dependent on Viral Load Despite Variable Subtype and T-Cell Immune Activation Levels.
Eller M, Opollo M, Liu M, Redd A, Eller L, Kityo C, et al
J. Infect. Dis. 2015 May;211(10):1574-84

Invariant natural killer T cells developing in the human fetus accumulate and mature in the small intestine.
Loh L, Ivarsson M, Michaëlsson J, Sandberg J, Nixon D
Mucosal Immunol 2014 Sep;7(5):1233-43

Impaired natural killer cell responses are associated with loss of the highly activated NKG2A(+)CD57(+)CD56(dim) subset in HIV-1 subtype D infection in Uganda.
Naluyima P, Eller M, Laeyendecker O, Quinn T, Serwadda D, Sewankambo N, et al
AIDS 2014 Jun;28(9):1273-8

The Human NK Cell Response to Yellow Fever Virus 17D Is Primarily Governed by NK Cell Differentiation Independently of NK Cell Education.
Marquardt N, Ivarsson M, Blom K, Gonzalez V, Braun M, Falconer K, et al
J. Immunol. 2015 Oct;195(7):3262-72

Acquisition of innate-like microbial reactivity in mucosal tissues during human fetal MAIT-cell development.
Leeansyah E, Loh L, Nixon D, Sandberg J
Nat Commun 2014 ;5():3143

Will loss of your MAITs weaken your HAART [corrected]?
Sandberg J, Dias J, Shacklett B, Leeansyah E
AIDS 2013 Oct;27(16):2501-4 

Soluble biomarkers of HIV transmission, disease progression and comorbidities.
Leeansyah E, Malone D, Anthony D, Sandberg J
Curr Opin HIV AIDS 2013 Mar;8(2):117-24

IVIg immune reconstitution treatment alleviates the state of persistent immune activation and suppressed CD4 T cell counts in CVID.
Paquin-Proulx D, Santos B, Carvalho K, Toledo-Barros M, Barreto de Oliveira A, Kokron C, et al
PLoS ONE 2013 ;8(10):e75199

Dysregulated CD1 profile in myeloid dendritic cells in CVID is normalized by IVIg treatment.
Paquin-Proulx D, Santos B, Carvalho K, Toledo-Barros M, Oliveira A, Kokron C, et al
Blood 2013 Jun;121(24):4963-4

Differential loss of invariant natural killer T cells and FoxP3⁺ regulatory T cells in HIV-1 subtype A and subtype D infections.
Flach B, Naluyima P, Blom K, Gonzalez V, Eller L, Laeyendecker O, et al
J. Acquir. Immune Defic. Syndr. 2013 Jul;63(3):289-93

Temporal dynamics of the primary human T cell response to yellow fever virus 17D as it matures from an effector- to a memory-type response.
Blom K, Braun M, Ivarsson M, Gonzalez V, Falconer K, Moll M, et al
J. Immunol. 2013 Mar;190(5):2150-8

Activation, exhaustion, and persistent decline of the antimicrobial MR1-restricted MAIT-cell population in chronic HIV-1 infection.
Leeansyah E, Ganesh A, Quigley M, Sönnerborg A, Andersson J, Hunt P, et al
Blood 2013 Feb;121(7):1124-35


Open positions
We always want to get in touch with talented potential co-workers. If you are interested in doing research within our group, as a degree project or as a researcher, please contact the group leader Johan Sandberg.
Open positions
Infectious Disease Medicine