Staphylococcal superantigens bind to MHC class II molecules and induce transcriptional activation of IL-1 beta and TNF-alpha genes in human monocytic cells. The understanding of the mechanisms by which superantigens activate cytokine gene expression is incomplete. In this study, we demonstrate that toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 (TSST-1) and staphylococcal enterotoxins A and B induce the activation of NF-kappa B, a transcriptional enhancer that binds to sequences found in both the IL-1 beta and TNF-alpha promoters. Electrophoretic mobility-shift assays showed a rapid induction of nuclear proteins that bound to the consensus kappa B motif. Furthermore, TSST-1 potently stimulated chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) expression by THP-1 cells transfected with a consensus NF-kappa B-promoter CAT construct, indicative of induction of NF-kappa B enhancer function. Induction of both NF-kappa B DNA-binding proteins and NF-kappa B enhancer function was down-regulated by inhibitors of protein kinase C and protein tyrosine kinase, indicating a role for these protein kinases in the induction of NF-kappa B by MHC class II ligands. Using neutralizing antibodies, we demonstrated that after the stimulation of cells with TSST-1, TNF-alpha, but not IL-1 beta, acted to up-regulate binding of NF-kappa B to DNA and the activation of the NF-kappa B-promoter CAT construct. These results indicate that induction of NF-kappa B by superantigens is up-regulated in part by an autocrine loop involving TNF-alpha.

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