Superantigens are proteins that in association with class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-bearing cells can stimulate virtually all T cells that express particular classes of the variable beta-domains of the T-cell receptor (TCR). This mechanism of T-cell activation circumvents the usual requirement for peptide-specific MHC recognition. Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxin B (SEB) is a bacterial superantigen that causes food poisoning and shock. We have characterized the tertiary complex of SEB, a soluble T-cell receptor, and a soluble class II MHC molecule DR1, and the three binary complexes TCR-SEB, SEB-DR1, and the peptide-specific complex DR1-TCR. We report here that in each case the specificity of the interaction among the soluble molecules is the same as observed in biological assays. Native gel electrophoresis and plasmon resonance affinity measurements indicate that SEB-TCR complex can form in the absence of class II MHC and that SEB-TCR interaction increases the binding of DR1. The observation that a superantigen can form complexes with TCR in both the absence and presence of class II MHC may provide a mechanism for its ability to induce anergy in some circumstances and activation in others (reviewed in ref. 8).