Role of Superantigens in Allergic Inflammation: Their Relationship to Allergic Rhinitis, Chronic Rhinosinusitis, Asthma, and Atopic Dermatitis

Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2018 Nov;32(6):502-517. doi: 10.1177/1945892418801083. Epub 2018 Sep 25.


Objectives: Our intention was to review all material published to date regarding superantigens (SAgs) and allergy from an otorhinolaryngological viewpoint to understand this association more clearly.

Methods: We identified all materials published mentioning both SAg and allergic rhinitis (AR), chronic sinusitis, asthma, and atopic dermatitis (AD) that are indexed on PubMed, Google, or the ProQuest Central databases.

Results: Staphylococcus aureus is a significant bacterial pathogen in humans and has the ability to produce enterotoxins with superantigenic features. The inflammatory response in allergy seen in both B cell and T cell may be attributed to SAgs. Sufferers of both allergic asthma with rhinitis and AR alone produce serological evidence of immunoglobulin E formation to SAgs produced by S. aureus. Perennial AR sufferers carry S. aureus more frequently and the presence of the organism within the nasal cavity may exacerbate perennial AR. SAg produced by S. aureus potentially worsens the asthmatic inflammatory response within the airway and may lead to the airways becoming hyperresponsive, as well as possibly activating T cells if asthmatic control is poor. Staphylococcal SAgs potentially increase the risk of developing chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyposis, additionally being a marker for more severe disease. If SAgs bring about chronic inflammatory responses in the nose and sinuses, then T cells excreting interferon-gamma may be a crucial mediator. In allergic dermatitis, S. aureus could be a key player in exacerbation of the condition. Even in younger pediatric patients with allergic dermatitis, allergic hypersensitivity to SAgs is frequent and may be a factor explaining how severe the condition becomes.

Conclusion: Just as SAgs are known to feature in many allergic conditions, they play their part in AR, chronic rhinosinusitis, asthma, and AD. Further research is required before the relationship between SAgs and allergy can be adequately explained.

Keywords: B-cell superantigens; Staphylococcus aureus; T-cell superantigens; allergic rhinitis; allergy; asthma; atopic dermatitis; chronic rhinosinusitis; superantigens.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allergens / immunology
  • Animals
  • Antigens, Bacterial / immunology
  • Asthma / immunology*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Rhinitis, Allergic / immunology*
  • Sinusitis / immunology*
  • Staphylococcal Infections / immunology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / immunology*
  • Superantigens / immunology


  • Allergens
  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Superantigens
  • Interferon-gamma