The bacterial toxic mitogens or superantigens are a family of related proteins that elicit potent T cell proliferative responses. These responses require APC that express MHC class II proteins, but they are not MHC restricted and they do not depend on a processing step, presumably because these mitogens bind directly to MHC class II molecules. These mitogens stimulate T cells by interacting in an unknown way with the portion of the TCR encoded by certain V beta gene segments. In this paper, we explore the importance of MHC class II polymorphism in T cell responses to staphylococcal enterotoxins. We find that certain MHC molecules present SEB to V beta 8-bearing T cells far better than others. These data suggest that one route of host defence against bacterial toxic mitogens may be to alter MHC class II molecules so that stimulation is inhibited.

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