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Immunology. 1998 Sep;95(1):76-82.

T cell- and perforin-dependent depletion of B cells in vivo by staphylococcal enterotoxin A.

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Pharmacia & Upjohn, Lund Research Center, Lund, Sweden.


Bacterial superantigens bind to major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II and subsequently activate both CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes expressing certain T-cell receptor (TCR)-Vbeta chains. In response to superantigen exposure these subsets proliferate, produce large amounts of proinflammatory cytokines and in addition CD8+ cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) are induced. Previous studies in vitro have shown that these CTL effectively lyse MHC class II-expressing cells presenting the proper superantigen. However, it is unknown whether superantigens induce a similar response towards MHC class II+ antigen-presenting cells in vivo. In this study we demonstrate that administration of repeated injections of the superantigen staphylococcal enterotoxin A (SEA) to TCR-Vbeta3 transgenic mice results in a loss of MHC class II-expressing cells in the spleen. Analysis of different MHC class II+ subsets revealed a selective depletion of CD19+ B cells, while F4/80+ macrophages increased in number. Depletion of T cells with anti-CD4 or anti-CD8 monoclonal antibody indicated that CD8+ T cells were crucial for SEA-induced cytotoxicity in vivo. Repeated injections of SEA to perforin-deficient mice resulted in significantly less B-cell depletion compared with control mice. This suggests that superantigen-activated CD8+ T cells lyse MHC class II+ antigen-presenting cells in a perforin-dependent manner in vivo. It is suggested that this represents a novel bacterial immune escape mechanism, which may particularly impair local humoral immune responses.

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