Professional Education

  • Doctor of Philosophy, Hannover Medical School-TWINCORE Centre for Experimental and Clinical Infection Research (Germany), Immunology and infection biology (2019)
  • Master of Science, University of Milan (Italy) (2014)
  • Bachelor of Science, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (Italy) (2012)

Stanford Advisors

All Publications

  • Numb-associated kinases are required for SARS-CoV-2 infection and are cellular targets for antiviral strategies. Antiviral research Karim, M., Saul, S., Ghita, L., Sahoo, M. K., Ye, C., Bhalla, N., Lo, C. W., Jin, J., Park, J., Martinez-Gualda, B., East, M. P., Johnson, G. L., Pinsky, B. A., Martinez-Sobrido, L., Asquith, C. R., Narayanan, A., De Jonghe, S., Einav, S. 2022: 105367


    The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) continues to pose serious threats to global health. We previously reported that AAK1, BIKE and GAK, members of the Numb-associated kinase family, control intracellular trafficking of multiple RNA viruses during viral entry and assembly/egress. Here, using both genetic and pharmacological approaches, we probe the functional relevance of NAKs for SARS-CoV-2 infection. siRNA-mediated depletion of AAK1, BIKE, GAK, and STK16, the fourth member of the NAK family, suppressed SARS-CoV-2 infection in human lung epithelial cells. Both known and novel small molecules with potent AAK1/BIKE, GAK or STK16 activity suppressed SARS-CoV-2 infection. Moreover, combination treatment with the approved anti-cancer drugs, sunitinib and erlotinib, with potent anti-AAK1/BIKE and GAK activity, respectively, demonstrated synergistic effect against SARS-CoV-2 infection in vitro. Time-of-addition experiments revealed that pharmacological inhibition of AAK1 and BIKE suppressed viral entry as well as late stages of the SARS-CoV-2 life cycle. Lastly, suppression of NAKs expression by siRNAs inhibited entry of both wild type and SARS-CoV-2 pseudovirus. These findings provide insight into the roles of NAKs in SARS-CoV-2 infection and establish a proof-of-principle that pharmacological inhibition of NAKs can be potentially used as a host-targeted approach to treat SARS-CoV-2 with potential implications to other coronaviruses.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.antiviral.2022.105367

    View details for PubMedID 35738348

  • Toll-like Receptors in Viral Encephalitis. Viruses Gern, O. L., Mulenge, F., Pavlou, A., Ghita, L., Steffen, I., Stangel, M., Kalinke, U. 2021; 13 (10)


    Viral encephalitis is a rare but serious syndrome. In addition to DNA-encoded herpes viruses, such as herpes simplex virus and varicella zoster virus, RNA-encoded viruses from the families of Flaviviridae, Rhabdoviridae and Paramyxoviridae are important neurotropic viruses. Whereas in the periphery, the role of Toll-like receptors (TLR) during immune stimulation is well understood, TLR functions within the CNS are less clear. On one hand, TLRs can affect the physiology of neurons during neuronal progenitor cell differentiation and neurite outgrowth, whereas under conditions of infection, the complex interplay between TLR stimulated neurons, astrocytes and microglia is just on the verge of being understood. In this review, we summarize the current knowledge about which TLRs are expressed by cell subsets of the CNS. Furthermore, we specifically highlight functional implications of TLR stimulation in neurons, astrocytes and microglia. After briefly illuminating some examples of viral evasion strategies from TLR signaling, we report on the current knowledge of primary immunodeficiencies in TLR signaling and their consequences for viral encephalitis. Finally, we provide an outlook with examples of TLR agonist mediated intervention strategies and potentiation of vaccine responses against neurotropic virus infections.

    View details for DOI 10.3390/v13102065

    View details for PubMedID 34696494

  • Sequential MAVS and MyD88/TRIF signaling triggers anti-viral responses of tick-borne encephalitis virus-infected murine astrocytes JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE RESEARCH Ghita, L., Breitkopf, V., Mulenge, F., Pavlou, A., Gern, O., Duran, V., Prajeeth, C., Kohls, M., Jung, K., Stangel, M., Steffen, I., Kalinke, U. 2021


    Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV), a member of the Flaviviridae family, is typically transmitted upon tick bite and can cause meningitis and encephalitis in humans. In TBEV-infected mice, mitochondrial antiviral-signaling protein (MAVS), the downstream adaptor of retinoic acid-inducible gene-I (RIG-I)-like receptor (RLR) signaling, is needed to induce early type I interferon (IFN) responses and to confer protection. To characterize the brain-resident cell subset that produces protective IFN-β in TBEV-infected mice, we isolated neurons, astrocytes, and microglia from mice and exposed these cell types to TBEV in vitro. Under such conditions, neurons showed the highest percentage of infected cells, whereas astrocytes and microglia were infected to a lesser extent. In the supernatant (SN) of infected neurons, IFN-β was not detectable, while infected astrocytes showed high and microglia low IFN-β expression. Transcriptome analyses of astrocytes implied that MAVS signaling was needed early after TBEV infection. Accordingly, MAVS-deficient astrocytes showed enhanced TBEV infection and significantly reduced early IFN-β responses. Nevertheless, at later time points, moderate amounts of IFN-β were detected in the SN of infected MAVS-deficient astrocytes. Transcriptome analyses indicated that MAVS deficiency negatively affected the induction of early anti-viral responses, which resulted in significantly increased TBEV replication. Treatment with MyD88 and TRIF inhibiting peptides reduced only late IFN-β responses of TBEV-infected WT astrocytes and blocked entirely IFN-β responses of infected MAVS-deficient astrocytes. Thus, upon TBEV exposure of brain-resident cells, astrocytes are important IFN-β producers showing biphasic IFN-β induction that initially depends on MAVS and later on MyD88/TRIF signaling.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/jnr.24923

    View details for Web of Science ID 000676133300001

    View details for PubMedID 34296786

  • MyD88 signaling by neurons induces chemokines that recruit protective leukocytes to the virus-infected CNS. Science immunology Ghita, L., Spanier, J., Chhatbar, C., Mulenge, F., Pavlou, A., Larsen, P. K., Waltl, I., Lueder, Y., Kohls, M., Jung, K., Best, S. M., Förster, R., Stangel, M., Schreiner, D., Kalinke, U. 2021; 6 (60)


    Viral encephalitis initiates a series of immunological events in the brain that can lead to brain damage and death. Astrocytes express IFN-β in response to neurotropic infection, whereas activated microglia produce proinflammatory cytokines and accumulate at sites of infection. Here, we observed that neurotropic vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) infection causes recruitment of leukocytes into the central nervous system (CNS), which requires MyD88, an adaptor of Toll-like receptor and interleukin-1 receptor signaling. Infiltrating leukocytes, and in particular CD8+ T cells, protected against lethal VSV infection of the CNS. Reconstitution of MyD88, specifically in neurons, restored chemokine production in the olfactory bulb as well as leukocyte recruitment into the infected CNS and enhanced survival. Comparative analysis of the translatome of neurons and astrocytes verified neurons as the critical source of chemokines, which regulated leukocyte infiltration of the infected brain and affected survival.

    View details for DOI 10.1126/sciimmunol.abc9165

    View details for PubMedID 34172587

  • STING induces early IFN-beta in the liver and constrains myeloid cell-mediated dissemination of murine cytomegalovirus NATURE COMMUNICATIONS Tegtmeyer, P., Spanier, J., Borst, K., Becker, J., Riedl, A., Hirche, C., Ghita, L., Skerra, J., Baumann, K., Lienenklaus, S., Doering, M., Ruzsics, Z., Kalinke, U. 2019; 10: 2830


    Cytomegalovirus is a DNA-encoded β-herpesvirus that induces STING-dependent type 1 interferon responses in macrophages and uses myeloid cells as a vehicle for dissemination. Here we report that STING knockout mice are as resistant to murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) infection as wild-type controls, whereas mice with a combined Toll-like receptor/RIG-I-like receptor/STING signaling deficiency do not mount type 1 interferon responses and succumb to the infection. Although STING alone is dispensable for survival, early IFN-β induction in Kupffer cells is STING-dependent and controls early hepatic virus propagation. Infection experiments with an inducible reporter MCMV show that STING constrains MCMV replication in myeloid cells and limits viral dissemination via these cells. By contrast, restriction of viral dissemination from hepatocytes to other organs is independent of STING. Thus, during MCMV infection STING is involved in early IFN-β induction in Kupffer cells and the restriction of viral dissemination via myeloid cells, whereas it is dispensable for survival.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-019-10863-0

    View details for Web of Science ID 000473002900003

    View details for PubMedID 31249303

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6597531

  • Type I Interferon Receptor Signaling of Neurons and Astrocytes Regulates Microglia Activation during Viral Encephalitis CELL REPORTS Chhatbar, C., Detje, C. N., Grabski, E., Borst, K., Spanier, J., Ghita, L., Elliott, D. A., Jordao, M., Mueller, N., Sutton, J., Prajeeth, C. K., Gudi, V., Klein, M. A., Prinz, M., Bradke, F., Stangel, M., Kalinke, U. 2018; 25 (1): 118-+


    In sterile neuroinflammation, a pathological role is proposed for microglia, whereas in viral encephalitis, their function is not entirely clear. Many viruses exploit the odorant system and enter the CNS via the olfactory bulb (OB). Upon intranasal vesicular stomatitis virus instillation, we show an accumulation of activated microglia and monocytes in the OB. Depletion of microglia during encephalitis results in enhanced virus spread and increased lethality. Activation, proliferation, and accumulation of microglia are regulated by type I IFN receptor signaling of neurons and astrocytes, but not of microglia. Morphological analysis of myeloid cells shows that type I IFN receptor signaling of neurons has a stronger impact on the activation of myeloid cells than of astrocytes. Thus, in the infected CNS, the cross talk among neurons, astrocytes, and microglia is critical for full microglia activation and protection from lethal encephalitis.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.09.003

    View details for Web of Science ID 000446102400012

    View details for PubMedID 30282022

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC7103936