Translational Rheumatology & Immunology Lab

Venken Koen

Venken Koen

Research Teamleader

Translational and immunological research in musculoskeletal diseases

Our team aims for a better understanding of underlying disease processes in rheumatic diseases with a specific focus on studying potential alterations at barrier sites (gut, skin, lung) in relation to the development and/or progression of joint pathology. Overall, we try to find specific answers for unresolved and complex questions in the field of rheumatology.

We have a longstanding interest in immunology in general and specifically T cell biology with a unique expertise in specific subsets of innate-like (gamma delta T, iNKT, MAIT cells) and regulatory T cells (Tregs) and their role in TNF and IL-17 driven immune pathology, particularly in spondyloarthritis (SpA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Our research is driven by a truly translational approach: Initial discoveries on well characterized patient samples made by state-of-the-art technologies (such as single-cell RNA sequencing and multi-parameter flow cytometry), are further explored by deep mechanistic studies in vivo (animal models) and in vitro experiments.

As part of a multidisciplinary team of clinicians and basic/translational scientists, we are involved in the Spartacus project, a VIB Grand Challenges program supported clinical trial with the goal to evaluate the potential to induce early sustained remission in patients with peripheral SpA upon anti-TNF treatment, steered by cellular and deep molecular analyses of synovial tissue biopsies and blood samples.

Our team is part of the Molecular Immunology and Inflammation Unit (Elewaut group).

Areas of Expertise

  • Translational immunology (human and animal research)
  • Immunoregulation
  • T cell biology
  • Autoimmunity/chronic inflammatory diseases
  • Single-cell RNAsequencing

Technology Transfer Potential

  • Human and mouse immune cell In vitro assay development
  • Mouse disease models
  • Novel target discovery

Selected publications

  • Mortier, C. et al. Gut Inflammation in axial Spondyloarthritis patients is characterized by a marked Type 17 skewed mucosal Innate-like T cell signature. Arthritis Rheumatol, in press (2023). Visit ➚
  • Venken, K. et al. Distinct immune modulatory roles of regulatory T cells in gut versus joint inflammation in TNF-driven spondyloarthritis. Ann Rheum Dis 82, 1076-1090 (2023). Visit ➚
  • Venken, K. et al. RORgammat inhibition selectively targets IL-17 producing iNKT and gammadelta-T cells enriched in Spondyloarthritis patients. Nat Commun 10, 9 (2019). Visit ➚
  • Melis et al. Senescence marker killer cell lectin-like receptor G1 (KLRG1) contributes to TNF-α production by interaction with its soluble E-cadherin ligand in chronically inflamed joints. Ann Rheum Dis. 73,1223-1231 (2014). Visit ➚
  • Venken, K. et al. A bidirectional crosstalk between iNKT cells and adipocytes mediated by leptin modulates susceptibility for T cell mediated hepatitis. J. Hepatol. 60, 175-182 (2014). Visit ➚


A UMAP plot (Uniform Manifold Approximation and Projection) illustrating the heterogeneity of human blood and gut mucosal T cells. Each dot represents a single T cell, with phenotypically similar cells being grouped in distinct clusters (colored) based on whole gene expression profiling (scRNAsequencing).

External links

  • VIB Grand Challenges Program - Preventing arthritis relapse Visit ➚