Cytokines 2015, My first international conference

Dec ,02 2016

In October 2015, I attended to my first international conference “CYTOKINES 2015” in Bamberg, Germany. This was the third annual meeting of the International Cytokine & Interferon Society (ICIS) - Symphonies in Health and Disease. (

What is a cytokine?

Cytokines are small molecules produced by cells which can regulate the inflammatory response in several organisms, humans included. Briefly, specific molecular structures called PAMPs (Pathogen Associated Molecular Patterns) are present on the surface or within armful pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses, and can be recognized by PRRs (Pattern recognition receptors) expressed by several cells of host organisms, such as immune and epithelial cells. The recognition of PAMPs by PRRs triggers the production of specific molecules called cytokines which lead to the activation of the host immune response in order to fight back the pathogen infection (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Activation of the innate immune response following microbial infection in a host cell.

The conference

The meeting is an important event which attracts scientists from all over the world, from PhD students to well-know personalities of the scientific world. It offers the opportunity to share novel results and ideas between people who have a common interest: Science. The main topic of this conference was the role of cytokines in inflammation, autoimmunity, cancer, infectious diseases and new therapeutic treatments. The meeting was composed of several symposia and poster sessions, which created an exciting and stimulating environment to discuss ongoing research and current hot topics.


Bamberg is a beautiful town in Bavaria - Germany, on the river Regnitz and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is also called the Franconian Rome because it has been built on seven hills with a castle or a church on the top of each one. The city has a lovely historic city centre with old buildings and the main attractions are the cathedral, the city hall and the Neue Residenz. The conference aperitifs was in one hall of the Neue Residenz called Kaisersaal, a stunning room with old paintings and sculptures (see picture below).

Kaisersaal - Neue Residenz, Bamberg.

My personal experience

The program was rich in cutting edge research topics and it was hard to decide which presentation to attend. I was very interested in pathogen recognition and innate immunity. Several senior scientists presented very interesting data related to their research field and the audience was always positively involved and ready to ask questions but also to give suggestions based on personal knowledge and experience.
I had the opportunity to present my recent findings during one of the poster session (see the poster abstract at the end of this paragraph). It was a very intense experience. I had to explain my data to many people with different backgrounds on immunology and pathogen recognition, therefore the following questions were different each time: sometimes simple and clear, sometimes intriguing and other times not directly related with my studies and required caution before giving an answer. In general I had positive feedbacks and few good suggestions too.

Poster title: Innate immune sensing of nucleic acids in airway epithelial cells compared to monocytic cells

In the last decade mechanisms for innate immune sensing of pathogen and self nucleic acids have been defined. For cytosolic sensing of DNA, the adaptor protein STING has a central role, operating downstream of DNA sensors such as cGAS and IFI16 to mediate transcription factor activation and cytokine and interferon induction. However most of the work in defining cytosolic DNA sensing pathways has been done in monocytic cells, while sensing mechanisms in other frontline sensing cells such as airway epithelial cells have been less well defined. Thus here we analysed the innate immune response of human airway epithelial cell line models to RNA and DNA, in comparison to a human monocytic cell line. Our results show that in both monocytic and epithelial cells the innate immune response to RNA virus and dsRNA was promptly activated. However compared to monocytic cells, A549 and BEAS-2B epithelial cells failed to produce inflammatory cytokines and interferons in response to DNA viruses and dsDNA. These cells lacked expression of IFI16 or STING, but did express cGAS. Ectopic expression of STING restored the DNA response in A549 cells, in a cGAS-dependent manner. In contrast to A549 and BEAS-2B cells, the hTERT-immortalised normal airway epithelial cell line NuLi-1 did express IFI16, cGAS and STING, and responded to DNA viruses and DNA in a STING-dependent manner. These results highlight the loss of DNA responses in epithelial cell lines lacking STING, and have relevance in considering different cell models for innate sensing studies in airway epithelial cells.