12:32pm Monday 16 December 2019

TNIK activates the immune system and stimulates cancer development

After an infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, TNIK does not activate the body’s defense mechanisms but instead promotes uncontrolled cell division and thus tumor growth. Scientists at the Helmholtz Zentrum München have published their findings in the renowned scientific journal PLoS Biology.

TNIK activates the immune system and stimulates cancer development

picture: Dr. Arnd Kieser

In a healthy cell, TNIK controls the immune response, cell division and cell death. The newly discovered protein is the central component of a complex that regulates these processes via the NF-κB signaling pathway*. TNIK controls the immune system by activating B cells*. However, if these are infected with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)*, the virus takes control of the cells and – also via TNIK – stimulates uncontrolled cell division, which can cause EBV-induced carcinomas and lymphomas. As the research findings show, the team of scientists headed by Dr. Arnd Kieser of the Department of Gene Vectors at the Helmholtz Zentrum München have not only succeeded in explaining a cellular control mechanism, but have also discovered the mechanism of how EBV-dependent tumors are induced.

“Our next step is to investigate how we can use TNIK and the TNIK signaling complex as a target to develop new cancer drugs,” says Kieser. The aim of the Helmholtz Zentrum München is to understand the mechanisms that trigger widespread diseases and to deduce new targets for their diagnosis, therapy and prevention.

Further information


* The NF-κB signaling pathway is one of the most explored signaling pathways in cells. One important funtion of this pathway is the control of cell division, cell death and the immune response.

* The B-cells or the B-lymphocytes in the immune system.

* Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a widespread human herpesvirus that triggers mononucleosis (glandular fever). In immuno-suppressed individuals, EBV often triggers lymphomas and carcinomas.

Original publication:

Shkoda A et al (2012) The Germinal Center Kinase TNIK is Required for Canonical NF-κB and JNK Signaling in B-Cells by the EBV Oncoprotein LMP1 and the CD40 Receptor. PLoS Biol 10(8): e1001376

Link to specialist publication:


Das Helmholtz Zentrum München, the German Research Center for Environmental Health, pursues the goal of developing personalized medicine, i.e. a customized approach to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of widespread diseases such as diabetes mellitus and lung disease. To that end, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. It has about 1,900 staff members and is a member of the Helmholtz Association, Germany’s largest scientific organization, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with some 31,000 staff members. www.helmholtz-muenchen.de


Contact for media representatives
Sven Winkler, Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health (GmbH), Ingolstädter Landstrasse 1, 85764 Neuherberg . Tel: +49 89-3187-3946 . Fax +49 89-3187-3324. E-Mail: presse@helmholtz-muenchen.de

Specialist contact
Dr. Arnd Kieser, Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health, Department of Gene Vectors, Marchioninistrasse 25, 81377 Munich – Tel.: +49 89-3187-1535 – Fax: +49 89-3187-4225 – E-Mail: a.kieser(at)helmholtz-muenchen.de

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