A potential role for staphylococcal and streptococcal superantigens in driving skewing of TCR Vβ subsets in tonsillar hyperplasia

Med Microbiol Immunol. 2017 Aug;206(4):337-346. doi: 10.1007/s00430-017-0510-5. Epub 2017 May 4.


The TCR Vβ repertoire from patients with recurrent tonsillitis and/or tonsillar hyperplasia was examined to determine whether the TCR Vβ composition is suggestive of local superantigen activity and if so, whether it is associated with the presence of superantigen producing bacteria. Tonsil specimens were cultured aerobically to allow identification and isolation of the bacterial pathogens Staphylococcus aureus and Group A Streptococcus. TCR Vβ subset analysis of tonsil leucocytes was performed by flow cytometry. The superantigenic potential of tonsil S. aureus isolates was determined by multiplex PCR and a T-cell mitogenicity assay. Tonsils were collected from 40 patients who were predominantly pre-school-aged children undergoing surgery for either recurrent tonsillitis or tonsillar hyperplasia causing obstructive sleep apnoea. S. aureus was cultured from 23/40 and Group A Streptococcus from 5/40 patients. Both CD4+ and CD8+ TCR Vβ populations were skewed in 17/40 patients. Twelve of these had recurrent tonsillitis of whom 9 also harboured S. aureus. Characterisation of tonsillar S. aureus isolates revealed that many contained genes for one or more potent superantigens and detection of these genes was associated with in vitro mitogenic activity. Skewing of the tonsillar TCR Vβ repertoire was observed at high frequency and was most commonly associated with the presence of S. aureus. Many S. aureus isolates were mitogenic suggesting that they have a potential for local impact on the function of tonsil T cell populations. These results suggest the possibility that anti-staphylococcal antibiotics may be an effective treatment option for some patients.

Keywords: Staphylococcus aureus; Streptococcus pyogenes; Superantigens; TCR Vβ profiling; Tonsillar hyperplasia.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Hyperplasia / immunology*
  • Hyperplasia / microbiology
  • Hyperplasia / pathology
  • Infant
  • Leukocytes / chemistry
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiplex Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Palatine Tonsil / immunology*
  • Palatine Tonsil / microbiology
  • Palatine Tonsil / pathology
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / analysis*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / genetics
  • Staphylococcus aureus / immunology*
  • Streptococcus pyogenes / genetics
  • Streptococcus pyogenes / immunology*
  • Superantigens / genetics
  • Superantigens / immunology*
  • Young Adult


  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta
  • Superantigens