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J Leukoc Biol. 1993 Nov;54(5):495-503.

Interplay between superantigens and the immune system.

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  • 1Department of Immunology, Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California.


Superantigens interact with the immune system by binding to major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II proteins and activating T cells through the variable region of the T cell receptor beta-chain. Through this means they can cause massive proliferation and then death of a large proportion of T cells. Superantigens are produced by bacteria, mycoplasmas, retroviruses, and probably by other organisms. In some cases, the superantigen is crucial to the organism's life cycle. Mouse mammary tumor virus disseminates by activating T cells which stimulate the proliferation of B cells harboring the virus. In other cases, the superantigen may be responsible for the pathogenesis of the infection, such as in the case of Toxic Shock Syndrome. In this article, we review information on the diseases in which superantigens are involved, and the mechanisms by which the superantigens interact with T cell receptor and class II molecules.

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