Helena Westerdahl

Helena Westerdahl


If you made any changes in Pure these will be visible here soon.

Personal profile


An infection that is mild in one individual can be very severe in another individual. Some of the variability in how different individuals handle a single infection can be explained by differences in their immune systems. In my research I am particularly interested in a key component of all vertebrate immune systems ‘the Major Histocompatibility Complex’ (MHC). The MHC molecules help our immune system to determine what is ‘self’ and what is foreign, so that pathogens can be eliminated efficiently. The MHC genes are the most variable genes known in vertebrates and it is believed that this high variability is maintained by selection from pathogens, i.e. through host-pathogen interactions.

In my research I want to know how genetic diversity in MHC is maintained in natural populations through investigating mechanisms down to the molecular level. I am also interested in how MHC diversity is maintained over much longer time intervals, i.e. over speciation events. I want to know:

  • Why songbirds have so many copies of MHC genes compared to humans?
  • How the songbird MHC molecules function relative to human MHC molecules?
  • To what degree the MHC genes in songbirds are expressed?
  • If migratory songbirds have a particularly fine-tuned immune system that enables them to overcome infections at their breeding, stopover and wintering sites?
  • To what extent MHC composition matters for how wild birds combat and clear avian malaria infections?
  • To what extent MHC composition matters for how rodents can handle Borrelia parasites?

Academic history; I finished my PhD in 2003 at Lund University, then I went on a Post Doc to the University of Sheffield (2005-06), then I got an Assistant Professorship in Lund (2007-11) and at present I have a lectureship in Lund (Associate Professor since 2012).

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land


Dive into the research topics where Helena Westerdahl is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • 1 Similar Profiles

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or