Professor Kai Toellner

Professor Kai-Michael Toellner’s research is focused on the basic immunobiology of B cell selection, maturation, and differentiation, as well as in CD4 T cell differentiation with the aim of enhancing cancer vaccination strategies.

Professor of Adaptive Immunity, Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy, College of Medical and Dental Sciences, University of Birmingham. 


UoB profile


Background and Research focus

Kai Toellner is a Professor of Adaptive Immunity in the Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy at the University of Birmingham. He has a longstanding interest in the basic immunobiology of B cell selection, maturation, and differentiation, as well as in CD4 T-cell differentiation. Kai and his team are studying how antigen, antibodies, T cells and other accessory cells in germinal centre interact with B cells and provide stimulation or barriers that lead to selection of higher affinity B-cells. Their main focus of this work is to improve the action of cancer vaccination strategies, as well as to understand the effects of ageing on the antibody affinity maturation. Key to this research is a close affiliation with Professor Roy Bicknell, in which Kai applies his expertise in basic B cell biology in preclinical mouse model studies designed to improve cancer vaccination approaches to target the tumour endothelium. These include targeting novel tumour endothelial antigens identified in the Bicknell laboratory.



Affinity maturation;  class switching; plasma cell differentiation; cancer vaccination strategies; affinity maturation and ageing.


Other activities

He has published over 70 research papers in peer reviewed scientific journals, and secured grant funding from the European Union, the MRC, and in collaboration with Medimmune from BBSRC. In addition to his research interests, Kai has made substantial contributions to teaching at the University of Birmingham. In particular, he delivers lectures on a wide range of courses which include BMedSci, MBChB, Mres in Biomedical Research, MPharm pharmacy and MSc in Immunology and Immunotherapy.




Zhang Y, Tech L, George LA, Acs A, Durrett RE, Hess H, Walker LSK, Tarlinton DM, Fletcher AL, Hauser AE, Toellner KM. Plasma cell output from germinal centers is regulated by signals from Tfh and stromal cells. J Exp Med. 2018 Apr 2;215(4):1227-1243. doi: 10.1084/jem.20160832.


Zhang Y, Dominguez-Medina C, Cumley NJ, Heath JN, Essex SJ, Bobat S, Schager A, Goodall M, Kracker S, Buckley CD, May RC, Kingsley RA, MacLennan CA, López-Macías C, Cunningham AF, Toellner KM. IgG1 Is Required for Optimal Protection after Immunization with the Purified Porin OmpD from Salmonella Typhimurium. J Immunol. 2017 Dec 15;199(12):4103-4109. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1700952. Epub 2017 Nov 10.


Toellner KM, Sze DM, Zhang Y. What Are the Primary Limitations in B-Cell Affinity Maturation, and How Much Affinity Maturation Can We Drive with Vaccination? A Role for Antibody Feedback. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2018 May 1;10(5). pii: a028795. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a028795. Review.


Long JE, Drayson MT, Taylor AE, Toellner KM, Lord JM, Phillips AC. Morning vaccination enhances antibody response over afternoon vaccination: A cluster-randomised trial. Vaccine. 2016 May 23;34(24):2679-85. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.04.032. Epub 2016 Apr 26. Erratum in: Vaccine. 2016 Sep14;34(40):4842.


Zhang Y, Garcia-Ibanez L, Toellner KM. Regulation of germinal center B-cell differentiation. Immunol Rev. 2016 Mar;270(1):8-19. doi: 10.1111/imr.12396. Review. Erratum in: Immunol Rev. 2016 Jul;272(1):202.


Toellner KM. FOXP1 inhibits plasma cell differentiation. Blood. 2015 Oct 29;126(18):2076-7. doi: 10.1182/blood-2015-09-666529.


Zhuang X, Ahmed F, Zhang Y, Ferguson HJ, Steele JC, Steven NM, Nagy Z, Heath  VL, Toellner KM, Bicknell R. Robo4 vaccines induce antibodies that retard tumor growth. Angiogenesis. 2015 Jan;18(1):83-95. doi: 10.1007/s10456-014-9448-z.


Toellner KM. Cognate interactions: extrafollicular IL-4 drives germinal-center reactions, a new role for an old cytokine. Eur J Immunol. 2014 Jul;44(7):1917-20. doi: 10.1002/eji.201444825.


Caganova, M., C. Carrisi, F. Mainoldi, L. George, F. Alberghini, M. Ponzoni, T. Nojima, C. Doglioni, D. Kitamura, KM. Toellner, I. Su, S. Casola. Regulation of the germinal center B-cell program by the histone H3 lysine-27 methyltransferase Ezh2.  Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2013, 201, 123, 5009-5022


Zhang Y., M. Meyer-Hermann, L. George, M. T. Figge, M. Khan, M. Goodall, S. P. Young, A. Reynolds, F. Falciani, A. Waisman, C. A. Notley, M. R. Ehrenstein, M. Kosco-Vilbois, K.-M. Toellner. Germinal centre B cells govern their own fate via antibody feedback.
Journal of Experimental Medicine, 2013, 210, 457-464.


Meyer-Hermann, M., E. Mohr, N. Pelletier, Y. Zhang, G. D. Victora, K.-M. Toellner. A novel theory of germinal center B cell selection, division, and exit. Cell Reports, 2012, 26, 162-174.