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Helena Westerdahl

Senior Lecturer | Associate Professor

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).

Helena Westerdahl fieldwork


Retrieved from Lund University's publications database



Retrieved from Lund University's publications database


Retrieved from Lund University's publications database

Page Manager:
Helena Westerdahl
E-mail: helena [dot] westerdahl [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se

Senior lecturer


+46 46 222 36 69



Research group

Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab


Doctoral students and postdocs

Research fellows


Luz Garcia-Longoria

PhD students, main supervisor

Samantha Mellinger

PhD students, assistant supervisor

Gustaf Ekelund Ugge

Helena Westerdahl w house sparrow