Staphylococcal superantigens: do they play a role in sepsis?
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In Staphylococcus aureus, 19 different superantigens (SAgs) have been described. Their genes are all located on mobile genetic elements, such as pathogenicity islands, plasmids, and phages. SAgs bypass conventional antigen recognition by directly cross-linking major histocompatibility complex class II (MHCII) molecules on antigen-presenting cells with T cell receptors. This leads to massive T cell proliferation and cytokine release, which may end in toxic shock syndrome. The role of SAgs in other forms of sepsis is less well defined. In animal models, SAgs and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) very efficiently synergize in the induction of lethal shock, and on the basis of these observations a two-hit model of sepsis has been proposed: LPS or another monocyte stimulus hits first, then SAg or another T cell stimulus hits. In clinical studies, however, evidence for an involvement of SAgs in sepsis has been difficult to obtain. This may have a number of reasons: differences between humans and rodents in their response to LPS and SAg, heterogeneity of SAg combinations in S. aureus clinical isolates, lack of tools to analyze SAg effects in patients, blocking anti-SAg serum antibodies, and MHCII polymorphisms.
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Barbara M. Broeker, Institut fur Immunologie und Transfusionsmedizin, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universit?t Greifswald, Sauerbruchstrasse, D-17487 Greifswald, Germany