Superantigens interact with MHC class II molecules outside of the antigen groove

Cell. 1990 Sep 21;62(6):1115-21. doi: 10.1016/0092-8674(90)90388-u.


Superantigens, including the staphylococcal enterotoxins and the minor lymphocyte stimulatory antigens, are highly potent immunostimulatory molecules, capable of activating virtually all T cells that express particular T cell receptor (TCR) variable regions. Superantigen stimulation of T lymphocytes depends on major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules, so there has been some debate as to whether superantigens interact with the antigen binding "groove" on class II complexes, just like conventional peptide antigens, or whether they bind elsewhere and serve as TCR coligands. We compared the presentation of peptide antigens and superantigens by a panel of mutant-presenting cell lines, each displaying an A kappa alpha chain with a single alanine replacement along the alpha helix proposed to form one face of the groove. The negligible effect of these 30 mutations on superantigen presentation, versus their drastic consequences for peptide presentation, prompts us to conclude that superantigens interact with MHC class II molecules outside the groove.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology*
  • Antigens / immunology*
  • Binding Sites
  • Binding, Competitive
  • Cell Line
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / immunology*
  • Hybridomas / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred CBA
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation
  • Protein Conformation
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Transfection


  • Antigens
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II