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Infect Immun. 2010 Apr;78(4):1728-39. doi: 10.1128/IAI.01079-09. Epub 2010 Feb 1.

Contribution of each of four Superantigens to Streptococcus equi-induced mitogenicity, gamma interferon synthesis, and immunity.

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  • 1Animal Health Trust, Centre for Preventive Medicine, Lanwades Park, Newmarket, Suffolk CB8 7UU, United Kingdom. romain.paillot@aht.org.uk


Streptococcus equi is the causative agent of strangles, the most frequently diagnosed infectious disease of horses worldwide. The disease is characterized by abscessation and swelling of the lymph nodes of the head and neck, which can literally strangle the horse to death. S. equi produces four recently acquired phage-associated bacterial superantigens (sAgs; SeeH, SeeI, SeeL, and SeeM) that share homology with the mitogenic toxins of Streptococcus pyogenes. The aim of this study was to characterize the contribution of each of these S. equi sAgs to mitogenic activity in vitro and quantify the sAg-neutralizing capacity of sera from naturally infected horses in order to better understand their role in pathogenicity. Each of the sAgs was successfully cloned, and soluble proteins were produced in Escherichia coli. SeeI, SeeL, and SeeM induced a dose-dependent proliferative response in equine CD4 T lymphocytes and synthesis of gamma interferon (IFN-gamma). SeeH did not stimulate equine peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) but induced proliferation of asinine PBMC. Allelic replacement mutants of S. equi strain 4047 with sequential deletion of the superantigen genes were generated. Deletion of seeI, seeL, and seeM completely abrogated the mitogenic activity and synthesis of IFN-gamma, in equine PBMC, of the strain 4047 culture supernatant. Sera from naturally infected convalescent horses had only limited sAg-neutralizing activities. We propose that S. equi sAgs play an important role in S. equi pathogenicity by stimulating an overzealous and inappropriate Th1 response that may interfere with the development of an effective immune response.

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