Prof. Dr. Dietmar Zehn

Academic Career and Research Areas

CD8+ T cells are a key component in the naturally occurring immune protection against viral and many bacterial infections and against malignant diseases. My laboratory aims to unravel new molecular mechanisms and strategies to more effectively engage T cells for prophylactic and therapeutic purposes. On this basis we seek to develop new treatment options for diseases in humans and livestock. Furthermore, we investigate how immune cells impact organ physiology and how they contribute to pathophysiological processes. To this end, we utilize a combination of genomics, systems biology, cellular immunology and molecular cell biology.

Prof. Zehn studied medicine at the Humboldt University of Berlin from 1996 to 2004. Afterwards he spent 5 years as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington/Seattle. In 2009 he joined the division of Immunology at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV) of the University of Lausanne. A year later he was appointed Assistant Professor. In 2013 he received a professorship sponsored by the The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF). In 2015 he was appointed Professor at the TUM and in the same year, he relocated his laboratory to the TUM campus in Weihenstephan. 

Prof. Zehn has been the founding director of the TUM Center for Infection Prevention (ZIP) since 05/2023. For this center, he was able to obtain funding of EUR 42M from the German Science Council in a competitive procedure (Paragraph 91b). This funding is currently being used to construct a new research building that will be home to the ZIP.


  • ERC Consolidator Grant (2017)
  • Georges-Köhler-Prize, German Society for Immunology (2015)
  • Acteria EFIS Early Career Research Prize in Immunology (2015)
  • ERC Starting Grant (2013)
  • SNF-sponsored professorship (2013)

Blank CU, Haining WN, Held W, Hogan PG, Kallies A, Lugli E, Lynn RC, Philip M, Rao A, Restifo NP, Schietinger A, Schumacher TN, Schwartzberg PL, Sharpe AH, Speiser DE, Wherry, EJ, Youngblood BA, Zehn D: „Defining 'T cell exhaustion'”. Nature Reviews. Immunology. 2019; 19(11): 665-674. 


Kanev K, Wu M, Drews A, Roelli P, Wurmser C, von Hösslin M, Zehn D: “Proliferation-competent Tcf1+ CD8 T cells in dysfunctional populations are CD4 T cell help independent”. Proceedings of the National Acaddemy of Sciences of the USA. 2019; 116(40): 20070-20076. 


Alfei F, Kanev K, Hofmann M, Wu M, Ghoneim HE, Roelli P, Utzschneider DT, von Hoesslin M, Cullen JG, Fan Y, Eisenberg V, Wohlleber D, Steiger K, Merkler D, Delorenzi M, Knolle PA, Cohen CJ, Thimme R, Youngblood B, Zehn D: “TOX reinforces the phenotype and longevity of exhausted T cells in chronic viral infection”. Nature. 2019; 571 (7764): 265-269.


Utzschneider DT, Alfei F, Roelli P, Barras D, Chennupati V, Darbre S, Delorenzi M, Pinschewer DD, Zehn D: “High antigen levels induce an “exhausted” phenotype in a chronic infection without impairing T cell expansion and survival”. Journal of Experimental Medicine. 2016; 213(9): 1819-1834.


Utzschneider DT, Charmoy M, Chennupati V, Pousse L, Ferreira DP, Calderon-Copete S, Danilo M, Alfei F, Hofmann M, Wieland D, Pradervand S, Thimme R, Zehn D, Held W: “T Cell Factor 1-Expressing Memory-like CD8(+) T Cells Sustain the Immune Response to Chronic Viral Infections”. Immunity. 2016; 45(2): 415-427.