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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.

Marcus Buggert, MSc, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow

Same year I obtained my PhD at Karolinska Institutet in 2014, I received an international VR post doc grant to conduct my post doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania under the mentorship of Drs. Michael Betts and Johan Sandberg. In US, I spearheaded the work on recirculating and resident memory T cells of the lymphatic system in health and HIV disease. In 2017, I came back to Dr. Johan Sandberg’s lab, to proceed my work on understanding how human resident memory T cells are functioning in lymphoid and non-lymphoid tissues in HIV and other disease contexts.

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.

Tiphaine Parrot, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow

I obtained my PhD in 2016 at the University of Nantes in France, where I investigated the function and the origin of the CD4+CD8+ double positive T cell population infiltrating melanoma skin cancer. My interest in T cell responses and biology led me to join Johan Sandberg´s group in 2017 to explore MAIT cells in hepatitis B virus infection and liver cancer.

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.

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.

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.

Johanna Emgård, PhD student

Johanna received her Master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, in 2016. Her thesis work described a mechanism by which the oral pathogen Fusobacterium nucleatum colonizes colorectal tumors. In her spare time she illustrates plants and birds and has previously published the book Humlesjös Flora (2009). She also enjoys hiking and cross country skiing.


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








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 2017 01;10(1):35-45















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