Bacteria seem to play an important role in the induction and maintenance of inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. Toxins from bacteria including Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus, have been shown to function as a new type of allergen termed 'superantigen'. Superantigens bypass the normal control of T-cell activation and activate all T-cell clones bearing certain types of variable chain on the T-cell receptor: this leads to vigorous T-cell activation and cytokine release. These bacterial superantigens may be involved in induction and aggravation of inflammatory skin diseases. Guttate psoriasis is often preceded by a streptococcal throat infection and T cells specific for streptococcal superantigens have been identified in the skin of patients. The skin of patients with atopic dermatitis is often colonized with superantigen-releasing Staph. aureus, and application of a staphylococcal superantigen to human skin induces an eczematoid reaction.