Johan Sandberg group - Role of T cells in human host defense

Innate and adaptive immune mechanisms work together to contain viral and bacterial infections. We investigate basic aspects of cell-mediated immunity as well as the immunopathogenesis of such infections. We do this with a basis in our solid understanding of fundamental immunology that we apply towards patient-based research and develop into translational approaches.

About our research

The majority of T lymphocytes carry diverse T cell receptors (TCRs) that display classical MHC-restriction. However, the T cell compartment also includes unconventional T cell subsets that recognize antigens presented by non-classical MHC-like molecules. Several of these subsets are evolutionarily conserved, display innate-like characteristics, and play important roles in immune control of pathogens.

The group is particularly interested in the complementary roles that adaptive CD8 T cells, and the unconventional innate-like T cells such as the invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells and mucosa-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells play in host defense.


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

Group leader

Johan Sandberg

PhD, Professor, Group leader, Deputy Division Chief (Stf avdelningschef)
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Johan Sandberg is Professor of Viral Immunology at the Department of Medicine, Huddinge since 2013.

Group members

Caroline Boulouis

Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Caroline Boulouis completed her PhD at Karolinska Institutet in 2021, where she studied the functionality of MAIT cells in the context of various bacterial stimulation. She is now studying the immunomodulatory properties of MAIT cells as a post doc. Caroline is a pharmacist, graduated from the University of Montpellier.
In her spare time, Caroline enjoys drawing, cooking and hiking with friends.

Jagadeeswara Rao Muvva

Research Specialist
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Tobias Kammann

PhD student
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Tobias Kammann has previously trained as a Biochemist in Jena, Germany, where he studied aspects of immunometabolism and sepsis.

Johanna Emgård

M.Sc., Ph.D Student
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Johanna Emgård 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.

Elli Mouchtaridi

PhD student
H7 Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Elli Mouchtaridi has a BSc in Biology from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece (2018) and obtained her MSc in Immunology and Microbiology from Uppsala University, Sweden (2021).

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.

Projects and collaborations

The group is involved in a multitude of projects together with many collaborators, as exemplified by the list of selected publications. Project objectives include investigations of:

  • The role of MAIT cells in human immune control of bacterial infections including antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  • Adaptive and innate T cell-mediated immunity in response to acute viral infection, including SARS-CoV-2 and HIV-1 infections.
  • Adaptive and innate T cell-mediated immunity in response to viral and bacterial vaccines.
  • Role of tissue-resident T cell populations in immunity and tissue homeostasis.
  • Viral (HIV-1, HSV) and bacterial (S. aureus) immune evasion mechanisms.
  • Mechanisms of viral immunopathogenesis.
  • Application of unconventional T cells in immunotherapy.

Research support

  • The Swedish Research Council
  • The Swedish Cancer Society
  • The Swedish Heart-Lung Foundation
  • Center for Innovative Medicine
  • SciLife Lab/Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation
  • Karolinska Institutet

Selected publications

  1. Expansion of donor-unrestricted MAIT cells with enhanced cytolytic function suitable for TCR-redirection.
    Parrot, T., Healy, K., Boulouis, C., Sobkowiak, M., Leeansyah, E., Aleman, S., Bertoletti, A., Sällberg Chen, M. and Sandberg, J. K. (2021) JCI Insight. 6: e140074.

  2. MR1-restricted T cells with MAIT-like characteristics are functionally conserved in the pteropid bat Pteropus Alecto.
    Leeansyah, E., Hey, Y. Y., Sia, W. R., Ng, J. H. J., Gulam, M. Y., Boulouis, C., Zhu, F., Ahn, M., Mak, J. Y. W., Fairlie, D. P., Kwa, A. L. H., Sandberg, J. K. and Wang, L. F. (2020)
    iScience. 23: 101876.

  3. The identity of human tissue-emigrant CD8+ T cells
    Buggert, M., Vella, L. A., Nguyen, S., Wu, V., Sekine, T., Perez-Potti, A., Maldini, C. R., Manne, S., Darko, S., Ransier, A., Nuri-Cervantes, L., Gorin, J. B., Sada Japp, A., Bukh Brody, I., Ivarsson, M. A., Hertwig, L., Antel, J. P., Johnson, M. E., Okoye, A., Picker, L., Vahedi, G., Sparrelid, E., Llewellyn Lacey, S., Gostick, E., Sandberg, J. K., Björkström, N. K., Bar-Or, A., Dori, Y., Naji, A., Canaday, D. H., Laufer, T. M., Wells, A. D., Price, D. A., Frank, I., Douek, D. C., Wherry, E. J., Itkin, M. G., and Betts, M. R. (2020). Cell. 183: 1946-1961

  4. MAIT cell activation and dynamics associated with COVID-19 disease severity
    Parrot, T., Gorin, J. B., Ponzetta, A., Maleki, K. T., Kammann, T., Emgård, J., Perez-Potti, A., Sekine, T., Rivera-Ballesteros, O., the Karolinska COVID-19 Study Group, Gredmark-Russ, S., Rooyackers, O., Folkesson, E., Eriksson, L. I., Norrby-Teglund, A., Ljunggren, H. G., Björkström, N. K., Aleman, S., Buggert, M., Klingström, J., Strålin, K., and Sandberg, J. K. (2020) . Science Immunology. 5: eabe1670.

  5. Robust T cell immunity in convalescent individuals with asymptomatic or mild COVID-19
    Sekine, T., Perez-Potti, A., Rivera-Ballesteros, O., Strålin, K., Gorin, J. B., Olsson, A., Llewellyn-Lacey, S., Kamal, H., Bogdanovic, G., Muschiol, S., Wulliman, D. J., Kammann, T., Emgård, J., Parrot, T., Folkesson, E.,Karolinska COVID-19 Study Group, Rooyackers, O., Eriksson, L. I., Henter, J. I., Sönnerborg, A., Allander, T., Albert, J., Nielsen, M., Klingström, J., Gredmark-Russ, S., Björkström, N. K., Sandberg, J. K., Price, D. A., Ljunggren, H. G., Aleman, S. and Buggert M. (2020). Cell. 183: 158-168

  6. Opsonization-enhanced antigen presentation by MR1 activates rapid polyfunctional MAIT cell responses acting as an effector arm of humoral antibacterial immunity.
    Boulouis, C., Gorin, J. B., Dias, J., Bergman, P., Leeansyah, E. and Sandberg, J. K. (2020) Journal of Immunology. 205: 67-77.

  7. Human MAIT cell cytolytic effector proteins synergize to overcome carbapenem resistance in Escherichia coli.
    Boulouis, C., Sia, W. R., Gulam, M. Y., Teo, J. Q. M., Png, Y. T., Phan, T. K., Mak, J. Y. W., Fairlie, D. P., Poon I. K. H., Koh, T. H., Bergman, P., Lim, C. M., Wang, L. F., Kwa, A. L. H., Sandberg, J. K. and Leeansyah, E. (2020) PLOS Biology. 18: e3000644.

  8. Dynamic MAIT cell response with progressively enhanced innate-like features during acute HIV-1 infection.
    Lal, K. G., Kim, D., Costanzo, M. C., Creegan, M., Leeansyah, E., Dias, J., Paquin-Proulx, D., Eller, L. A., Schuetz, A., Phuang-ngern, Y., Krebs, S. J., Slike, B. M., Kibuuka, H., Maganga, L., Nitayaphan, S., Kosgei, J., Sacdalan, C., Ananworanich, J., Bolton, D. L., Michael, N. L., Shacklett, B. L., Robb, M. L., Eller, M. A. and Sandberg, J. K. (2020) Nature Communications. 11: 272.

  9. Activated PD-1+ CD4 T cells represent a short-lived part of the viral reservoir and predict poor immunologic recovery upon initiation of ART.
    Eller, M. A., Hong, T., Creegan, M., Nau, M., Sanders-Buell, E., Slike, B., Krebs, S., Ratto-Kim, S., McElrath, M. J., Katabira, E. T., Bolton, D. L., Michael, N. L., Robb, M. L., Tovanabutra, S., Baeten, J. M. and Sandberg J. K. (2020) AIDS. 34: 197-202.

  10. MAIT cells are major contributors to the cytokine response in group A streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.
    Emgård, J., Bergsten, H., McCormick, J. K., Barrantes, I., Skrede, S., Sandberg, J. K.* and Norrby-Teglund, A.* (2019)Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 116: 25923-25931. *Shared senior authors.