Lack of muco-cutaneous signs of toxic shock syndrome when t cells are absent: S. aureus shock in immunodeficient adults with multiple myeloma

N. S. Kamel, Michael C Banks, A. Dosik, D. Ursea, A. A. Yarilina, D. N. Posnett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Staphylococcal toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is an acute life threatening disease. The diagnosis can be made clinically based on diagnostic criteria. The clinical manifestations are caused in large part by the release of high levels of T-cell-derived cytokines as a result of potent toxins, also called superantigens (SAg), produced by Staphylococcus aureus, but it is not clear which clinical symptoms/signs are strictly T-cell dependent. Here, we report on three adults with multiple myeloma (MM) presenting with S. aureus sepsis/shock, and two patients with typical TSS. The MM patients had compromised humoral immunity because of depression of normal immunoglobulin (Ig) levels at the expense of the M protein. In addition, their T cells were absent due to high dose chemotherapy initiated for bone marrow transplantation. The MM cases lacked mucosal hyperemia, erythroderma and desquamation, but were otherwise indistinguishable from the TSS cases. All patients grew S. aureus and in each case, SAg genes were detected by PCR. In several cases, the plasma contained biological SAg activity resulting in Vβ specific proliferation of indicator T cellsin vitro. The same specific activity was observed with the supernatant fluids of S. aureus broth cultures from the respective bacterial isolates. This confirms the presence of bio-active toxins in the plasma but did not lead to full blown TSS when T cells were lacking. Thus, S. aureus sepsis/shock can be clinically distinguished from typical TSS, and we suggest that muco-cutaneous manifestations of TSS are the most telling signs of massive T-cell-dependent cytokine release.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-139
Number of pages9
JournalClinical and Experimental Immunology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes



  • Immunodeficiency
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Superantigen
  • Toxic shock syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology

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