Superantigens interact with T lymphocytes and macrophages to cause T lymphocyte proliferation and overwhelming cytokine production, which lead to toxic shock syndrome. Staphylococcus aureus superantigen toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 is a major cause of menstrual toxic shock syndrome. In general, superantigen-secreting S. aureus remains localized at the vaginal surface, and the superantigen must therefore penetrate the vaginal mucosa to interact with underlying immune cells to cause toxic shock syndrome. A dodecapeptide region (toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 amino acids F119-D130), relatively conserved among superantigens, has been implicated in superantigen penetration of the epithelium. The purpose of this study was to determine amino acids within this dodecapeptide region that are required for interaction with vaginal epithelium. Alanine mutations were constructed in S. aureus toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 amino acids D120 to D130. All mutants maintained superantigenicity, and selected mutants were lethal when given intravenously to rabbits. Toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 induces interleukin-8 from immortalized human vaginal epithelial cells; however, three toxin mutants (S127A, T128A, and D130A) induced low levels of interleukin-8 compared to wild type toxin. When carboxy-terminal mutants (S127A to D130A) were administered vaginally to rabbits, D130A was nonlethal, while S127A and T128A demonstrated delayed lethality compared to wild type toxin. In a porcine ex vivo permeability model, mutant D130A penetrated the vaginal mucosa more quickly than wild type toxin. Toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 residue D130 may contribute to binding an epithelial receptor, which allows it to penetrate the vaginal mucosa, induce interleukin-8, and cause toxic shock syndrome.