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J Virol. 2000 Sep;74(18):8262-7.

Intercellular transfer of a soluble viral superantigen.

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Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, Albany, New York 12201-2002, USA.


Mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV) superantigens (vSAgs) can undergo intercellular transfer in vivo and in vitro such that a vSAg can be presented to T cells by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II proteins on antigen-presenting cells (APCs) that do not express the superantigen. This process may allow T-cell activation to occur prior to viral infection. Consistent with these findings, vSAg produced by Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells was readily transferred to class II IE and IA (H-2(k) and H-2(d)) proteins on a B-cell lymphoma or mouse splenocytes. Fixed class II-expressing acceptor cells were used to demonstrate that the vSAg, but not the class II proteins, underwent intercellular transfer, indicating that vSAg binding to class II MHC could occur directly at the cell surface. Intercellular transfer also occurred efficiently to splenocytes from endogenous retrovirus-free mice, indicating that other proviral proteins were not involved. Presentation of vSAg7 produced by a class II-negative, furin protease-deficient CHO variant (FD11) was unsuccessful, indicating that proteolytic processing was a requisite event and that proteolytic activity could not be provided by an endoprotease on the acceptor APC. Furthermore, vSAg presentation was effected using cell-free supernatant from class II-negative, vSAg-positive cells, indicating that a soluble molecule, most likely produced by proteolytic processing, was sufficient to stimulate T cells. Because the membrane-proximal endoproteolytic cleavage site in the vSAg (residues 68 to 71) was not necessary for intercellular transfer, the data support the notion that the carboxy-terminal endoproteolytic cleavage product is an active vSAg moiety.

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