Superantigens

Terje Kalland, Pharmacia & Upjohn, Nerviano, Italy

Mikael Dohlsten, Per Antonsson and Morten Sogaard, Pharmacia & Upjohn, Lund Research Center, Lund, Sweden

Superantigens (SAgs) are proteins produced by bacteria and viruses that are able to stimulate a large proportion of T lymphocytes via interaction with the variable domain of the |3 chain of the T cell antigen receptor (TCR-V|3). To be presented to the TCR, SAgs must bind to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules. In contrast to con ventional peptide antigens which generally activate <0.01% T cells, SAgs have the ability to stimulate 2-30% of the T cell repertoire. SAgs are extensively used in studies of T cell biology in humans and rodents. SAg-mediated immune activation is likely to be responsible for some of the characteristic symptoms associated with infections with SAg-producing microbes, such as the toxic shock syndrome and food poisoning caused by staphylococci.

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