T-cell activation in human intestinal mucosa: the role of superantigens

Gastroenterology. 1993 Nov;105(5):1421-30. doi: 10.1016/0016-5085(93)90147-5.


Background: Superantigens are a class of potent T-cell mitogens that activate T cells using specific antigen receptor V regions. Superantigens have been implicated in the pathogenesis of several autoimmune diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease. The present study examines the role of superantigens in the human gastrointestinal immune response.

Methods: Human intestinal epithelial cells and T lymphocytes were obtained from surgical specimens and cultured in the presence or absence of exogenous superantigens. Activation of T cells and V region usage were measured by thymidine incorporation and by cell staining using a panel of monoclonal antibodies.

Results: Neither epithelial cells from normal nor diseased intestinal mucosa expressed virally encoded, endogenous superantigens. However, 50% of epithelial cell preparations could present exogenous bacterial superantigens to T cells. In the other 50%, a defect in this function was observed, which did not represent production of suppressive factors or absence of accessory cytokines. Mucosal T lymphocytes proliferated in response to superantigens in vitro, expressing increased transferrin receptor, interleukin-2 receptor, and HLA-DR.

Conclusions: A superantigen-driven mucosal immune response may occur in health and in chronic inflammatory states. The intestinal epithelial cell may mediate this response, through presentation of superantigens to mucosal T lymphocytes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / analysis
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / immunology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Activation*
  • Superantigens / analysis
  • Superantigens / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*


  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II
  • Superantigens