Barrier immunology

Immune cells adapt to the needs of each tissue. Defining the molecular mechanisms influencing immune cell phenotype, function and persistence in health is critical for our understanding of disease and for the development of new medicines to treat them.

The barrier immunology community at The University of Manchester performs fundamental and applied research on every immune cell type in the lung, skin, oral cavity and gastrointestinal tract, taking into account tissue complexity across the life course.

Our research is underpinned by strong clinical collaborators within the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre’s (BRC) themes relating to cancer, respiratory medicine and dermatology. With access to highly characterised patient cohorts and financial and scientific input from major pharmaceutical companies, we are ideally placed to ask the big questions.

Lung immunology

Lower respiratory tract infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) alone account for 8% of global life impairment in 2015, according to the World Health Organisation. We take alternative approaches in this area of significant unmet need by examining:

  • innate immune interaction with, and regeneration of, epithelium;
  • immunomatrix, neuroimmunology and cell ultrastructure in health and disease;
  • molecular mechanisms causing long term perturbations in immune health;
  • epigenetic remodelling of lung immune cells;
  • tissue specific training of lung immunity.

Gastrointestinal immunology

Explorative immunology in the gastrointestinal tract has long been a strength at Manchester.

We have a wealth of expertise in pre-clinical in vitro and in vivo models and ex silico analysis. We also collaborate with gastroenterologists at Salford Royal Hospital to explore processes affecting the GI tract in health and disease.

In addition we have well-established links in Africa in order to develop programmes of field and experimental research in the tropics, to enable us to tackle issues such as parasitic infection.

Our breadth of expertise enables collaborative approaches that address key issues including:

  • the interaction of the epithelium and mucus barrier with the microbiome and pathogens;
  • the role of the epithelium in educating innate immunity;
  • mechanisms of macrophage-mediated inflammation and resolution;
  • mechanisms underpinning regulation and resolution of inflammation (colitis and infection);
  • parasite biology and vaccine development;
  • the gut/body axis in coordinating immune cells to act as a global network to establish appropriate immunity.

Oral immunology

Periodontitis, severe inflammation of the gingiva and tooth supporting structures, is the most common chronic inflammatory disease in humans.

To understand the mechanisms that safeguard immune homeostasis at this unique barrier we undertake complimentary human and mouse studies to explore:

  • T cell priming and education at the gingiva;
  • tissue specific cues shaping oral barrier immune function;
  • cytokine networks promoting loss of homeostasis;
  • the systemic consequences of oral inflammation.

Skin immunology

The skin immune system must be competent at fighting infection and healing wounds whilst being tolerant to harmless substances to prevent inflammatory skin disease. We study aspects of skin health, infection, healing and inflammatory disease, focusing on:

  • immune cell subsets;
  • cytokines and soluble mediators of inflammation;
  • skin specific training;
  • the resolution of inflammation;
  • immune mechanisms underlying inflammatory skin diseases;
  • interactions between microbes and skin.




Dr Joanne Konkel

Dr Sean Knight (Deputy Lead)

Principal investigators