Antonio Rothfuchs research group - research focus

We are interested in the immunology and aerobiology of mycobacteria.

Research focus

Dendritic cell responses to mycobacteria

Dendritic cells sense invading microbes at the site of infection and respond by internalizing the microbe and moving via lymphatic vessels to the regional, draining lymph node, where they activate naïve T cells. This process is incompletely understood for both M. tuberculosis and M. bovis Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG), the live tuberculosis vaccine.

High-resolution confocal microscopy
High-resolution confocal microscopy showing apposition of IL-12p40-producing dendritic cells (green) with T cells (red) in lymph node containing BCG (white). Photo: Antonio Rothfuchs.

We are interested in the activation and response capacity of Dendritic cells to BCG, including the mechanisms by which migratory Dendritic cells mobilize to the lymph node in response to BCG, their ability to transport BCG to the lymph node, and to trigger the activation of protective CD4+ T cells. Understanding the above will help rationalize strategies in tuberculosis control by harnessing Dendritic cells for clinical benefit and for improving BCG as well as other vaccines of low-to-modest efficacy.

An electrostatic air sampler for M. tuberculosis

Tuberculosis spreads by the inhalation of aerosols carrying M. tuberculosis, released through cough by persons with active pulmonary tuberculosis. Detection of M. tuberculosis in aerosols can help break the chain of transmission by identifying infectious persons and hotspots of transmission. Tools that are easy-to-use and scalable in low-income, high-burden countries are however lacking.

THOR electrostatic air sampler.
The THOR electrostatic air sampler. Photo: Nuno Rufino de Sousa.

With this in mind we have developed a compact and affordable electrostatic air sampler that can be used together with nucleic acid amplification tests to detect M. tuberculosis in aerosols. The performance of this air sampler is being investigated in laboratory experiments, and in tuberculosis patients in Sweden and southern Africa to detect M. tuberculosis in cough and in the build environment.

The air sampler has recently been used to demonstrate infectious SARS-CoV-2 in air.

Impact of aerosol transport on mycobacterial survival and infectivity 

Aerosols carrying M. tuberculosis are inhaled deep into the lung where M. tuberculosis are engulfed by resident macrophages lining the alveolar space. These alveolar macrophages provide a first-line-of-defense against aerosolized M. tuberculosis but also a conducive environment for their replication. Despite progess in understanding the transmission of tuberculosis, the impact of aerosol carriage on the survival of M. tuberculosis remains elucise.

The success of M. tuberculosis aged in aerosols to initiate infection in macrophages is also incompletely understood. Using a platform in BSL3 that combines aerosol science, microbiology and immunology, we are investigating the survival of aerosolized M. tuberculosis, their subsequent infectivity and immune response in macrophages. This platform is also being used to study the emerging aerobiology of SARS-CoV-2.

These aerobiology studies will contribute to important new information on host-mycobacteria interactions, M. tuberculosis transmission and the implementation of transmission-blocking strategies in tuberculosis control.

Two images showing test chamber
Test chamber for aerosol experiments in Biosafety Level 3. Photo: Antonio Rothfuchs

Collaboration with companies

In addition to academic collaborations we also work with companies and research institutes in different projects related to tuberculosis, aerobiology or infection control. Some of our current and previous private sector partnerships include:

  • Cepheid, USA
  • Semair Diagnostics, Sweden
  • Sarepta Therapeutics, USA
  • S3I, USA
  • Zeteo Tech, USA

Research Funding

Our research has received funding from various sources over the years. We acknowledge the generous support from the following bodies that have funded research in the group or enabled researchers to come and work with us:

  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USA
  • CAPES, Brazil
  • China Scholarship Council CSC
  • European Research Council
  • Karolinska Institutet
  • Karolinska Innovations AB
  • SciLifeLab
  • Swedish Research Council VR
  • Swedish Society for Medicine
  • Åke Wiberg Stiftelse
Content reviewer:
Sara Lidman