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Sci. STKE, 24 October 2006
Vol. 2006, Issue 358, p. pe45
[DOI: 10.1126/stke.3582006pe45]


Superantigens: Supersignalers?

Rose Zamoyska*

Molecular Immunology, Medical Research Council National Institute for Medical Research, The Ridgeway, Mill Hill, London NW7 4RD, UK.

Abstract: Some bacterial and viral proteins are potent activators of the immune response, earning them the title of superantigens (SAgs). Infection with pathogens containing these proteins can produce massive T cell activation and can result in various potentially fatal conditions, such as toxic shock and food poisoning. Unlike conventional peptide antigens, SAgs bind promiscuously to the external faces of class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules and families of T cell receptors (TCRs), thereby activating large numbers of T cells simultaneously. The manner in which SAgs bind MHC and TCR differs from the way in which peptide antigens interact with these structures. Nevertheless, because they simultaneously engage MHC and TCR, SAgs were assumed to activate T cells through the canonical signaling pathway that has been described for T cell activation by TCR engagement of peptide-MHC complexes. However, recent research shows that SAgs also activate an alternative signaling pathway in T cells. This study shows that SAgs can stimulate T cells in the absence of the Src family kinase, Lck, by activating a heterotrimeric guanine nucleotide–binding protein (G protein), G{alpha}11. G{alpha}11 activates phospholipase C–beta (PLC-beta), rather than the more abundant PLC-{gamma}1, and, by this means, links SAg signaling to the phosphatidylinositol and protein kinase C signaling pathways. The discovery of a signaling pathway specifically activated by SAgs, and not by conventional peptide antigens, opens the possibility of developing therapeutic reagents that may help control diseases caused by these agents.

*Contact information. Telephone, 44-20-8816-2466; fax, 44-20-8816-2248; e-mail, rzamoys{at}

Citation: R. Zamoyska, Superantigens: Supersignalers? Sci. STKE 2006, pe45 (2006).

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