Superantigens: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Barbara A. Torres, Scott Kominsky, George Q. Perrin, Amy C. Hobeika, Howard M. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Increasing evidence suggests that superantigens play a role in immune-mediated diseases. Superantigens are potent activators of CD4+ T cells, causing rapid and massive proliferation of cells and cytokine production. This characteristic of superantigens can be exploited in diseases where strong immunologic responses are required, such as in the B16F10 animal model of melanoma. Superantigen administration is able to significantly enhance ineffective anti-tumor immune responses, resulting in potent and long-lived protective anti-tumor immunity. However, superantigens are more well-known for the role they play in diseases. Studies using an animal model for neurologic demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis show that superantigens can induce severe relapses and activate autoreactive T cells not involved in the initial bout of disease. This may also involve epitope spreading of disease. Superantigens have also been implicated in acute diseases such as food poisoning and TSS, and in chronic diseases such as psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. Viral superantigens are also involved in the disease process, including superantigens derived from human immunodeficiency virus and mouse mammary tumor virus. Finally, immunotherapies that ameliorate the role played by superantigens in disease are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-176
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental Biology and Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001


  • Autoimmunity
  • Cancer
  • Prophylactic vaccination
  • Superantigens

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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