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Gastroenterology. 1993 Nov;105(5):1421-30.

T-cell activation in human intestinal mucosa: the role of superantigens.

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  • 1Division of Gastroenterology, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, New York.



Superantigens are a class of potent T-cell mitogens that activate T cells using specific antigen receptor V regions. Superantigens have been implicated in the pathogenesis of several autoimmune diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease. The present study examines the role of superantigens in the human gastrointestinal immune response.


Human intestinal epithelial cells and T lymphocytes were obtained from surgical specimens and cultured in the presence or absence of exogenous superantigens. Activation of T cells and V region usage were measured by thymidine incorporation and by cell staining using a panel of monoclonal antibodies.


Neither epithelial cells from normal nor diseased intestinal mucosa expressed virally encoded, endogenous superantigens. However, 50% of epithelial cell preparations could present exogenous bacterial superantigens to T cells. In the other 50%, a defect in this function was observed, which did not represent production of suppressive factors or absence of accessory cytokines. Mucosal T lymphocytes proliferated in response to superantigens in vitro, expressing increased transferrin receptor, interleukin-2 receptor, and HLA-DR.


A superantigen-driven mucosal immune response may occur in health and in chronic inflammatory states. The intestinal epithelial cell may mediate this response, through presentation of superantigens to mucosal T lymphocytes.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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