Holger Brueggemann

Research interests

Recent years’ investigations of the coevoloution and functional integration of the human body and its commensal microbiota have disclosed a major impact on physiological functions including protection against infections, reaction patterns in the immune system, and disposition for autoimmune and other inflammation-mediated diseases. The Gram-positive bacterium Propionibacterium acnes is ubiquitously found on the surface of our skin and within its sebaceous follicles. The presence of P. acnes is thought to be beneficial, but specific mutualistic mechanisms have not been identified so far. In contrast, P. acnes is well known for its association with acne vulgaris, the most common skin disease, which affects up to 80% of all adolescents and although not deadly, a disease with a profound impact on the life quality of sufferers. Despite decades of research, the exact role of the bacterium in acne remains an enigma.

Besides its role in acne formation and/or progression, independent studies reported a link between P. acnes and prostate pathologies; the bacterium was found to be associated with histological inflammation in the prostate, and we, along with others, detected P. acnes in cancerous prostates. Strikingly, in vitro infection with P. acnes modulated host cell adhesion and proliferation properties, which resulted in the initiation of cellular transformation.

Our research focuses on investigations of the molecular basis of P. acnes’ mutualistic and parasitic roles and its consequences for the host, including projects regarding the microbiology of P. acnes and its different phylotypes. Major differences between ‘commensal’ and ‘disease-associated’ strains of P. acnes are identified using comparative genome, transcriptome and proteome analyses. In addition, pathogen-associated host-interacting factors are identified and characterized. Next generation sequencing and mass spectrometry approaches support the identification of in vivo isolates and their host-interacting products. In addition, host cell responses to P. acnes are determined, including the elucidation of P. acnes-triggered signaling pathways using keratinocyte infection models.

Our P. acnes research projects serve as a model to study the mechanistic role of our microbiota in disease formation and in maintaining health. The results will provide avenues for new prophylactic and therapeutic strategies against the most prevalent dermatological disease, elucidate the potential role of P. acnes in the pathogenesis of prostate cancer, and increase our understanding of the delicate balances with our microbiota.


  • Genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics
  • Mutagenesis, siRNA interference, confocal microscopy
  • Cell culture infection models

Collaborators and centres

  • Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, Germany
  • Institut Pasteur, Paris, France 
  • Goettingen Genomics Laboratory, Goettingen, Germany


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