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Tim Willinger group

Willinger group. Photo: Tylor Sandberg

Studying Mucosal Immunity and Inflammation In Vivo

My research group studies immune responses in the mucosal tissues gut and lung. We want to understand how the immune system helps maintain healthy organ function and how disturbed immune function causes chronic tissue inflammation.

Inflammatory diseases of the intestine and lung are very common, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, today no cure is available for these important human diseases.

Our studies focus on two types of tissue-resident immune cells that carry out specialized functions to maintain organ homeostasis: Innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) and macrophages. These cells sense and respond to signals from their environment, such as microbes, dietary factors, and metabolites. To make our studies relevant to humans, we have developed innovative models that allow us to study the cells and function of the human immune system in vivo.


Innate lymphoid cell migration

ILCs are a recently described family of immune cells that are enriched in tissues interacting with the outside world. We are particularly interested in how ILCs migrate within the body and to sites of inflammation. We have recently discovered that cholesterol metabolites (so-called oxysterols) guide the movement of ILCs and promote the formation of lymphoid tissue in the large intestine. Article in Immunity

Oxysterols guide gut immune cells and are involved in inflammatory bowel disease

ILCs & B cells in gut lymphoid tissue express the oxysterol receptor GPR183 (green)

Cover Immunity. Photo: Johanna Emgård

Development and function of human macrophages

Macrophages are the most abundant immune cells in the airways. Due to their strategic location, they protect us from airborne pathogens, while performing tissue repair after injury or infection. However, not much is known about the development and function of lung macrophages in humans. To overcome this limitation, we have created a unique model to study human macrophages in vivo. More info
Development and function of human innate immune cells in a humanized mouse model

Human lung macrophagesUnderstanding the development of lung macrophages will provide important information that is relevant to human diseases like COPD, asthma, influenza infection, and tuberculosis.

Image by Nature Biotechnology (Credit: © tiripero iStock)


Center for Innovative Medicine (CIMED), Karolinska Institutet/SLL

Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet)

Åke Wibergs Stiftelse

European Union (Horizon 2020)

Faculty-funded career position as Senior Researcher, Karolinska Institutet



Richard Flavell (Yale University, USA)

Henrique Veiga-Fernandes (Champalimaud Center, Portugal)

Burkhard Ludewig (Institute of Immunobiology, Switzerland)

João Pereira (Yale University, USA)

Lucie Peduto (Pasteur Institute, France)

Matthew Hepworth (Manchester University, UK)

Samuel Huber (Hamburg University, Germany)

At Karolinska Institutet

Magnus Westgren (Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology)

Apostolos Bossios (Department of Respiratory Medicine, Huddinge)

Eduardo Villablanca (Department of Medicine, Solna)

Anna Smed Sörensen (Department of Medicine, Solna)


Tim Willinger, MD, PhD, Group Leader

He was awarded a PhD in 2006 for his work on human T cell memory in the lab of Prof. Andrew McMichael at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford. He then moved to Yale University for his postdoctoral training with Prof. Richard Flavell in one of the leading immunology laboratories in the world. As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Willinger developed novel experimental models to study the human immune system in vivo (Cell Host Microbe 2010, PNAS 2011, Trends Immunol 2011, Nat Biotechnol 2014). He also identified molecular mechanisms that regulate T lymphocyte homeostasis and migration (PNAS 2012, JEM 2014, PNAS 2015). In July 2015, Dr. Willinger joined the Center for Infectious Medicine at Karolinska Institutet to continue his research on the human immune system, focusing on immune responses in the gut and lung. He is also a Junior Investigator at the Center for Innovative Medicine (CIMED).

Natalie Sleiers, Laboratory technician

Natalie has been working at Karolinska Institutet/Karolinska Sjukhuset for several years. She likes to spend her spare time either in the stable or the gym. She also loves to watch movies, another big hobby of her.

Emma Ringqvist, Postdoc

Emma received her PhD from Uppsala University in 2010 on host-parasite interactions during Giardia infections with Prof. Staffan Svärd. After a year working on intestinal helminths, she changed fields to lung immunology in 2012 as a postdoc with Prof. Judith Allen, then at Edinburgh University. There she studied the immunological landscape and emphysema pathology after parasitic nematode N. brasiliensis infection in mice, research that she continued at the Karolinska Institutet in 2015. In 2018 she worked on the impact of human neonate pulmonary development and adulthood pulmonary dysfunction with Dr. Åsa Wheelock at KI. In addition to research and being a mum, Emma enjoys DIY projects, a good book, binge-watching series, and spending time outdoors.

Yu GaoYu Gao, Postdoc

Yu received his PhD from Karolinska Institutet in 2017 with Prof. Martin Rottenberg for his work on T cell development in the thymus and T cell mediated immune responses during Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection. He is a sportsman. He likes to play basketball, tennis, table tennis, badminton, and to swim.

Imran Mohammad, Postdoc

Imran hails from Andhra Pradesh, India (South India). He did his bachelors in Biotechnology at KL University, Vijayawada. He moved to Sweden for his Master’s studies at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala. He received his PhD from Turku Center for Biotechnology, University of Turku, Finland in the field of T helper cell biology in 2018. In his free time, he prefers watching Game of Thrones (GOT) and playing Playerunknown’s battlegrounds (PUBG).

Elza Evren, PhD student

Elza received her Master’s Degree in Immunology from University Pierre and Marie Curie, France, in 2016. She did her master’s thesis in Harvard Medical School where she studied poly-N-acetyl-glucosamine, a bacterial capsule polysaccharide that provides a potentially broad-spectrum target for vaccination. She is fond of travelling, exploring new cultures and learning from past stories.

Arlisa AlisjahbanaArlisa Alisjahbana, Master student

Arlisa is in her final year of the Master Program in Biomedicine at KI, and is currently studying human lung ILCs for her Master thesis. Before coming to KI, she worked with tuberculosis diagnostic methods in the TB-HIV Research Center at Universitas

Previous members

Helen Jongsma Wallin, Lab technician

Hana Kammoun, Postdoc (Marie Curie Fellow)

Johanna Emgård, PhD student

Linda Moet, Master student

Yiqi Huang, Master student

Inés Có, Bachelor student (ERASMUS)

Selected publications












Open positions

We are looking for talented and highly motivated students and postdocs to join our research group. To apply, submit cover letter, CV with publication list, and contact information of three references to the group leader Tim Willinger (