Rainer G Ulrich

Friedrich Loeffler Institute, Griefswald, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

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Publications (202)649.88 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a human pathogen that is primarily transmitted by the fecal-oral route and causes a usually self-limiting acute viral hepatitis. The virus is endemic in developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America and is responsible for sporadic cases in industrialized countries. In western Europe, an increasing number of autochthonous cases have been associated with zoonotic transmissions of HEV from domestic and wild animals. In Germany, animal reservoirs for HEV have been mainly assigned to domestic pigs and wild boars. To investigate the potential role of deer as a reservoir of HEV, we surveyed HEV-specific antibodies and RNA in deer samples from geographic regions in Germany. We sampled red deer (Cervus elaphus) and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) during active surveillance in three forest districts in northern Hesse and southern Lower Saxony during 2011-12 and 2012-13, respectively. Additionally, archived samples of red, roe, and fallow deer (Dama dama), collected in 2000-01 in German national parks, were included in the study. Antibody prevalence ranged from 2-3.3% in red deer to 5.4-6.8% in roe deer. Viral RNA was detected in red deer and fallow deer at prevalences of 2.0-6.6% and 4.3%, respectively. The investigation confirmed the presence of HEV infections in three deer species in Germany. Red, roe, and fallow deer should be further monitored to assess their role as hosts and potential reservoirs of HEV in Germany.
    Journal of wildlife diseases 11/2015; DOI:10.7589/2014-12-282 · 1.36 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Hepatitis A virus (HAV) is an ancient and ubiquitous human pathogen recovered previously only from primates. The sole species of the genus Hepatovirus, existing in both enveloped and nonenveloped forms, and with a capsid structure intermediate between that of insect viruses and mammalian picornaviruses, HAV is enigmatic in its origins. We conducted a targeted search for hepatoviruses in 15,987 specimens collected from 209 small mammal species globally and discovered highly diversified viruses in bats, rodents, hedgehogs, and shrews, which by pairwise sequence distance comprise 13 novel Hepatovirus species. Near-complete genomes from nine of these species show conservation of unique hepatovirus features, including predicted internal ribosome entry site structure, a truncated VP4 capsid protein lacking N-terminal myristoylation, a carboxyl-terminal pX extension of VP1, VP2 late domains involved in membrane envelopment, and a cis-acting replication element within the 3D(pol) sequence. Antibodies in some bat sera immunoprecipitated and neutralized human HAV, suggesting conservation of critical antigenic determinants. Limited phylogenetic cosegregation among hepatoviruses and their hosts and recombination patterns are indicative of major hepatovirus host shifts in the past. Ancestral state reconstructions suggest a Hepatovirus origin in small insectivorous mammals and a rodent origin of human HAV. Patterns of infection in small mammals mimicked those of human HAV in hepatotropism, fecal shedding, acute nature, and extinction of the virus in a closed host population. The evolutionary conservation of hepatovirus structure and pathogenesis provide novel insight into the origins of HAV and highlight the utility of analyzing animal reservoirs for risk assessment of emerging viruses.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 11/2015; DOI:10.1073/pnas.1516992112 · 9.67 Impact Factor
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    A Schielke · V Ibrahim · I Czogiel · M Faber · C Schrader · P Dremsek · R G Ulrich · R Johne ·
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    ABSTRACT: Background: In Germany, 17 % of the general human population have antibodies to hepatitis E virus (HEV) (recomLine HEV-IgG/IgM immunoassay [Mikrogen GmbH]). Wild boars represent an animal reservoir for HEV genotype 3, which is the common genotype in Germany. We estimated the seroprevalence among hunters with contact to wild boars to identify factors that may be associated with past or present HEV infection. Methods: In 2013, the local veterinarian authority in a district in Central Germany attended meetings of hunters who provided blood specimens and completed a questionnaire collecting information on age, sex, hunting-related activities and consumption of wild boar meat. Specimens of wild boars were taken during drive hunts in this district during the season 2012/2013. All specimens were tested for HEV RNA and anti-HEV IgM and IgG antibodies. Log-binomial regression was used to estimate prevalence ratios (PR) for the hunters. Results: Of 126 hunters (median age 55; 94 % male) 21 % tested positive for anti-HEV IgG antibodies (95 % confidence interval [CI] 13-28 %) (recomWell HEV IgG assay [Mikrogen GmbH]). Anti-HEV prevalence was highest in the age group of the 70-79-year-olds (67 %; 95 % CI 39-95 %). Wild boars showed an average anti-HEV prevalence of 41 %. HEV RNA was detected in 4/22 (18 %) liver specimens and in 1/22 (4.5 %) muscle specimens. Most wild boars were tested positive for HEV RNA (3/10; 30 %) and HEV-specific antibodies (7/15; 47 %) in the southwestern part of the district. Hunters preferring this hunting ground had a lower anti-HEV prevalence when gloves were frequently used during disembowelling of wild boars compared to hunters using gloves never or infrequently (age-adjusted PR 0.12; 95 % CI 0.02-0.86). Conclusions: Hunters may benefit from wearing gloves when in contact with blood or body fluids of HEV animal reservoirs. Anti-HEV prevalence among the hunters of this study did not significantly differ from that of the general population suggesting that other factors play a major role in the epidemiology of HEV in Germany.
    BMC Infectious Diseases 10/2015; 15(1):440. DOI:10.1186/s12879-015-1199-y · 2.61 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Two novel polyomaviruses (PyVs) were identified in kidney and chest-cavity fluid samples of wild bank voles (Myodes glareolus) and common voles (Microtus arvalis) collected in Germany. All cloned and sequenced genomes had the typical PyV genome organization, including putative open reading frames for early regulatory proteins large T antigen and small T antigen on one strand and for structural late proteins (VP1, VP2 and VP3) on the other strand. Virus-like particles (VLPs) were generated by yeast expression of the VP1 protein of both PyVs. VLP-based ELISA and large T-antigen sequence-targeted polymerase-chain reaction investigations demonstrated signs of infection of these novel PyVs in about 42% of bank voles and 18% of common voles. In most cases only viral DNA, but not VP1-specific antibodies were detected. In additional animals exclusively VP1-specific antibodies, but no viral DNA was detected, indicative for virus clearance. Phylogenetic and clustering analysis including all known PyV genomes placed novel bank vole and common vole PyVs amongst members of the tentative Wukipolymavirus genus. The other known four rodent PyVs, Murine PyV and Hamster PyV, and Murine pneumotropic virus and Mastomys PyV belong to different phylogenetic clades, tentatively named Orthopolyomavirus I and Orthopolyomavirus II, respectively. In conclusion, the finding of novel vole-borne PyVs may suggest an evolutionary origin of ancient wukipolyomaviruses in rodents and may offer the possibility to develop a vole-based animal model for human wukipolyomaviruses.
    PLoS ONE 10/2015; 10(10):e0140916. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0140916 · 3.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Brucellosis is a widespread zoonotic disease introduced from animal reservoirs to humans. In Germany, bovine and ovine/caprine brucellosis were eradicated more than a decade ago and mandatory measures in livestock have been implemented to keep the officially brucellosis-free status. In contrast, surveillance of wildlife is still challenging, and reliable data on the prevalence of brucellae in small mammal populations do not exist. To assess the epidemiology of Brucella spp. in rodents and shrews, a molecular survey was carried out. A total of 537 rodents and shrews were trapped in four federal states located throughout Germany and investigated for the presence of Brucella. Using a two-step molecular assay based on the detection of the Brucella-specific bcsp31 and IS711 sequences in tissue samples, 14.2% (n = 76) of the tested animals were positive. These originated mainly from western and south-western Germany, where preliminary analyses indicate population density-dependent Brucella prevalence in voles (Myodes glareolus) and mice (Apodemus spp.). recA typing revealed a close relationship to a potentially novel Brucella species recently isolated from red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in Austria. The molecular detection of brucellae in various rodent taxa and for the first time in shrew species shows that these animals may be naturally infected or at least have a history of exposure to Brucella spp.
    Transboundary and Emerging Diseases 09/2015; DOI:10.1111/tbed.12425 · 2.94 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: To identify native wildlife species possibly susceptible to infection with Schmallenberg virus (SBV), a midge-transmitted orthobunyavirus that predominantly infects domestic ruminants, samples from various free-living ruminants, but also carnivores, small mammals and wild boar were analyzed serologically. Before 2011, no SBV-specific antibodies were detectable in any of the tested species, thereafter, a large proportion of the ruminant population became seropositive, while every sample taken from carnivores or small mammals tested negative. Surprisingly, SBV-specific-antibodies were also present in a large number of blood samples from wild boar during the 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 hunting seasons. Hence, free-ranging artiodactyls may play a role as wildlife host.
    Veterinary Research 09/2015; 46(1):99. DOI:10.1186/s13567-015-0232-x · 2.82 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We amplified and sequenced six complete genomes of a polyomavirus from feral Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) and from a long-term breeding colony derived from Norway rats. This virus, which is closely related to hamster polyomavirus and murine polyomavirus, may contribute to understanding the evolutionary history of rodent polyomaviruses. Copyright © 2015 Ehlers et al.
    Genome Announcements 09/2015; 3(5). DOI:10.1128/genomeA.00997-15
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    ABSTRACT: Importance: We report on the first detection and isolation of CPXV from a putative reservoir host, which enables comparative analyses to understand the infection cycle of these zoonotic orthopox viruses and the relevant genes involved. In vitro studies including whole-genome sequencing as well as in vivo experiments using the Wistar rat model and the vole reservoir host allowed us to establish links between genomic sequences and the in vivo properties (virulence) of the novel vole isolate in comparison to a recent zoonotic CPXV isolated from pet rats in 2009. Furthermore, the role of genes only present in a reservoir isolate can now be further analyzed. These studies allow, therefore, unique insights and conclusions about the role of the rodent reservoir in CPXV epidemiology and transmission, and the zoonotic threat that these viruses represent.
    Journal of Virology 08/2015; DOI:10.1128/JVI.01195-15 · 4.44 Impact Factor
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    Dataset: Morger 2015

  • D Reil · C Imholt · S Drewes · R G Ulrich · J A Eccard · J Jacob ·
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    ABSTRACT: Bank voles can harbour Puumala virus (PUUV) and vole populations usually peak in years after beech mast. A beech mast occurred in 2014 and a predictive model indicates high vole abundance in 2015. This pattern is similar to the years 2009/2011 when beech mast occurred, bank voles multiplied and human PUUV infections increased a year later. Given similar environmental conditions in 2014/2015, increased risk of human PUUV infections in 2015 is likely. Risk management measures are recommended. © 2015 Blackwell Verlag GmbH.
    Zoonoses and Public Health 07/2015; DOI:10.1111/zph.12217 · 2.37 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Between 2011 and 2013, three breeders of variegated squirrels (Sciurus variegatoides) had encephalitis with similar clinical signs and died 2 to 4 months after onset of the clinical symptoms. With the use of a metagenomic approach that incorporated next-generation sequencing and real-time reverse-transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR), the presence of a previously unknown bornavirus was detected in a contact squirrel and in brain samples from the three patients. Phylogenetic analyses showed that this virus, tentatively named variegated squirrel 1 bornavirus (VSBV-1), forms a lineage separate from that of the known bornavirus species. (Funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture [Germany] and others.)
    New England Journal of Medicine 07/2015; DOI:10.1056/NEJMoa1415627. · 55.87 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Between 2011 and 2013, three breeders of variegated squirrels (Sciurus variegatoides) had encephalitis with similar clinical signs and died 2 to 4 months after onset of the clinical symptoms. With the use of a metagenomic approach that incorporated next-generation sequencing and real-time reverse-transcriptase quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR), the presence of a previously unknown bornavirus was detected in a contact squirrel and in brain samples from the three patients. Phylogenetic analyses showed that this virus, tentatively named variegated squirrel 1 bornavirus (VSBV-1), forms a lineage separate from that of the known bornavirus species.
    New England Journal of Medicine 07/2015; DOI:10.1056/NEJMoa1415627 · 55.87 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Parasite-mediated selection may contribute to the maintenance of genetic variation at host immune genes over long time scales. To date, the best evidence for the long-term maintenance of immunogenetic variation in natural populations comes from studies on the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes, whereas evidence for such processes from other immune genes remains scarce. In the present study, we show that, despite pronounced population differentiation and the occurrence of numerous private alleles within populations, the innate immune gene Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) displays a distinct haplotype structure in 21 bank vole (Myodes glareolus) populations across Europe. Haplotypes from all populations grouped in four clearly differentiated clusters, with the three main clusters co-occurring in at least three previously described mitochondrial lineages. This pattern indicates that the distinct TLR2 haplotype structure may precede the split of the mitochondrial lineages 0.19–0.56 Mya and suggests that haplotype clusters at this innate immune receptor are maintained over prolonged time in wild bank vole populations.
    Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 06/2015; 116(1). DOI:10.1111/bij.12593 · 2.26 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Many viruses significantly impact human and animal health. Understanding the population dynamics of these viruses and their hosts can provide important insights for epidemiology and virus evolution. Puumala virus (PUUV) is a European hantavirus that may cause regional outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome in humans. Here, we analyzed the spatiotemporal dynamics of PUUV circulating in local populations of its rodent reservoir host, the bank vole (Myodes glareolus) during eight years. Phylogenetic and population genetic analyses of all three genome segments of PUUV showed strong geographical structuring at a very local scale. There was a high temporal turnover of virus strains in the local bank vole populations but several virus strains persisted through multiple years. Phylodynamic analyses showed no significant changes in the local effective population sizes of PUUV, although vole numbers and virus prevalence fluctuated widely. Microsatellite data demonstrated also a temporally persisting subdivision between local vole populations, but these groups did not correspond to the subdivision in the virus strains. We conclude that restricted transmission between vole populations and genetic drift play important roles in shaping the genetic structure and temporal dynamics of PUUV in its natural host which has several implications for zoonotic risks of the human population.This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
    Evolutionary Applications 04/2015; 8(6). DOI:10.1111/eva.12263 · 3.90 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Puumala virus (PUUV) is one of the predominant hantavirus species in Europe causing mild to moderate cases of haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome. Parts of Lower Saxony in north-western Germany are endemic for PUUV infections. In this study, the complete PUUV genome sequence of a bank vole-derived tissue sample from the 2007 outbreak was determined by a combined primer-walking and RNA ligation strategy. The S, M and L genome segments were 1,828, 3,680 and 6,550 nucleotides in length, respectively. Sliding-window analyses of the nucleotide sequences of all available complete PUUV genomes indicated a non-homogenous distribution of variability with hypervariable regions located at the 3'-ends of the S and M segments. The overall similarity of the coding genome regions to the other PUUV strains ranged between 80.1 and 84.7 % at the level of the nucleotide sequence and between 89.5 and 98.1 % for the deduced amino acid sequences. In comparison to the phylogenetic trees of the complete coding sequences, trees based on partial segments revealed a general drop in phylogenetic support and a lower resolution. The Astrup strain S and M segment sequences showed the highest similarity to sequences of strains from geographically close sites in the Osnabrück Hills region. In conclusion, a primer-walking-mediated strategy resulted in the determination of the first complete nucleotide sequence of a PUUV strain from Central Europe. Different levels of variability along the genome provide the opportunity to choose regions for analyses according to the particular research question, e.g., large-scale phylogenetics or within-host evolution.
    Virus Genes 12/2014; 50(2). DOI:10.1007/s11262-014-1157-6 · 1.58 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is the causative agent of acute hepatitis E in humans in developing countries, but sporadic and autochthonous cases do also occur in industrialised countries. In Europe, food-borne zoonotic transmission of genotype 3 (gt3) has been associated with domestic pig and wild boar. However, little is known about the course of HEV infection in European wild boar and their role in HEV transmission to domestic pigs. To investigate the transmissibility and pathogenesis of wild boar-derived HEVgt3, we inoculated four wild boar and four miniature pigs intravenously. Using quantitative real-time RT-PCR viral RNA was detected in serum, faeces and in liver, spleen and lymph nodes. The antibody response evolved after fourteen days post inoculation. Histopathological findings included mild to moderate lymphoplasmacytic hepatitis which was more prominent in wild boar than in miniature pigs. By immunohistochemical methods, viral antigens were detected mainly in Kupffer cells and liver sinusoidal endothelial cells, partially associated with hepatic lesions, but also in spleen and lymph nodes. While clinical symptoms were subtle and gross pathology was inconspicuous, increased liver enzyme levels in serum indicated hepatocellular injury. As the faecal-oral route is supposed to be the most likely transmission route, we included four contact animals to prove horizontal transmission. Interestingly, HEVgt3-infection was also detected in wild boar and miniature pigs kept in contact to intravenously inoculated wild boar. Given the high virus loads and long duration of viral shedding, wild boar has to be considered as an important HEV reservoir and transmission host in Europe. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13567-014-0121-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
    Veterinary Research 12/2014; 45(1):121. DOI:10.1186/s13567-014-0121-8 · 2.82 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Rats are known as reservoirs and vectors for several zoonotic pathogens. However, information on the viruses shed by urban wild rats that could pose zoonotic risk to human health is scare. Here, intestinal contents from 20 wild Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) collected in the city of Berlin, Germany, were subjected to metagenomic analysis of viral nucleic acids. The determined faecal viromes of rats consisted of a variety of known and unknown viruses and were highly variable among the individuals. Members of the families Parvoviridae and Picobirnaviridae represented the most abundant species. Novel picorna-, boca-, sapo- and stool-associated circular ssDNA viruses (SCV) were identified, which showed only low sequence identities to known representatives of the corresponding taxa. In addition, noro- and rotaviruses were detected as potential zoonotic gastroenteritis viruses. However, partial genome sequence analyses indicated that the norovirus was closely related to the recently identified rat norovirus and the rotavirus B was closely related to the rat rotavirus strain IDIR; both viruses clustered separately from respective human virus strains in phylogenetic trees. In contrast, the rotavirus A sequences showed high identities to human and animal strains. Analysis of the nearly complete genome of this virus revealed the known genotypes G3, P[3] and N2 for three of the genome segments, whereas the remaining eight genome segments represented the novel genotypes I20-R11-C11-M10-A22-T14-E18-H13. In conclusion, the results indicate a high heterogeneity of enteric viruses present in urban wild rats; their ability to be transmitted to humans remains to be assessed in future.
    Journal of General Virology 08/2014; 95(Pt_12). DOI:10.1099/vir.0.070029-0 · 3.18 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Leptospirosis is an acute, febrile disease occurring in humans and animals worldwide. Leptospira spp. are usually transmitted through direct or indirect contact with the urine of infected reservoir animals. Among wildlife species, rodents act as the most important reservoir for both human and animal infection. To gain a better understanding of the occurrence and distribution of pathogenic leptospires in rodent and shrew populations in Germany, kidney specimens of 2973 animals from 11 of the 16 federal states were examined by PCR. Rodent species captured included five murine species (family Muridae), six vole species (family Cricetidae) and six shrew species (family Soricidae). The most abundantly trapped animals were representatives of the rodent species Apodemus flavicollis, Clethrionomys glareolus and Microtus agrestis. Leptospiral DNA was amplified in 10% of all animals originating from eight of the 11 federal states. The highest carrier rate was found in Microtus spp. (13%), followed by Apodemus spp. (11%) and Clethrionomys spp. (6%). The most common Leptospira genomospecies determined by duplex PCR was L. kirschneri, followed by L. interrogans and L. borgpetersenii; all identified by single locus sequence typing (SLST). Representatives of the shrew species were also carriers of Leptospira spp. In 20% of Crocidura spp. and 6% of the Sorex spp. leptospiral DNA was detected. Here, only the pathogenic genomospecies L. kirschneri was identified.
    International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 08/2014; 11(8):7562-74. DOI:10.3390/ijerph110807562 · 2.06 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The hepatitis E virus (HEV) was first identified in 1990, although hepatitis E-like diseases in humans have been recorded for a long time dating back to the 18th century. The HEV genotypes 1 to 4 have been subsequently detected in human hepatitis E cases with different geographical distribution and different modes of transmission. Genotypes 3 and 4 have been identified in parallel in pigs, wild boars and other animal species and their zoonotic potential has been confirmed. Until 2010, these genotypes along with avian HEV strains infecting chicken were the only known representatives of the familiy Hepeviridae. Thereafter, additional HEV-related viruses have been detected in wild boars, distinct HEV-like viruses were identified in rats, rabbit, ferret, mink, fox, bats and moose, and a distantly related agent was described from closely related salmonid fish. This review summarizes the characteristics of the so far known HEV-like viruses, their phylogenetic relationship, host association and proposed involvement in diseases. Based on the reviewed knowledge, a suggestion for a new taxonomic grouping scheme of the viruses within the family Hepeviridae is presented.
    Infection, genetics and evolution: journal of molecular epidemiology and evolutionary genetics in infectious diseases 07/2014; 27. DOI:10.1016/j.meegid.2014.06.024 · 3.02 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

4k Citations
649.88 Total Impact Points


  • 2006-2015
    • Friedrich Loeffler Institute
      • • Institute for Novel and Emerging Infectious Diseases
      • • Institute of Epidemiology
      Griefswald, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany
  • 2011-2014
    • MSD Animal Health, Germany
      Schleisheim, Bavaria, Germany
  • 2013
    • Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen
      • Institut für Hygiene und Infektionskrankheiten der Tiere
      Gießen, Hesse, Germany
    • Institut für Interdisziplinäre Medizin Hamburg
      Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
  • 1992-2011
    • Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin
      • • Institute of Medical Sociology
      • • Institute of Virology
      Berlin, Land Berlin, Germany
  • 2009
    • Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine
      Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany
  • 2007
    • Robert Koch Institut
      Berlín, Berlin, Germany
    • Institute of Biotechnology Vilnius University
      Vil'nyus, Vilniaus Apskritis, Lithuania
  • 2004-2005
    • Hochschule für Gesundheit und Medizin
      Berlín, Berlin, Germany
  • 2003
    • Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics
      Berlín, Berlin, Germany
    • University of Latvia
      • Biomedical Research and Study Centre
      Rija, Rīga, Latvia
  • 1991-2003
    • Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
      • Department of Biology
      Berlín, Berlin, Germany
  • 2002
    • Karolinska Institutet
      Сольна, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 1999-2002
    • Humboldt State University
      ACV, California, United States
  • 2001
    • Universität zu Lübeck
      • Department of Internal Medicine I
      Lübeck Hansestadt, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
  • 1990
    • Institute of Molecular Biology
      Mayence, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany