Complement activation by a B cell superantigen

J Immunol. 1996 Aug 1;157(3):1200-6.


Staphylococcal protein A (SpA), acting as a B cell superantigen, binds to the Fab region of human VH3+ Igs. Using SpA abrogated of its IgG Fc binding activity (Mod SpA) as a model B cell superantigen, we determined whether such an interaction causes complement activation. Addition of Mod SpA to human serum led to complement consumption and the generation of C3a. To determine whether this complement activation 1) was due to an interaction between VH3+ Igs and the Fab binding site of SpA and 2) proceeded via the classical complement pathway, we tested a panel of monoclonal IgM proteins for the ability to hind C1q following interaction with SpA. C1q binding was restricted to SpA-reactive, VH3+ IgM proteins. To formally determine whether the binding of SpA to the reactive VH3+ IgM proteins led to complement activation, we reconstituted the serum from a hypogammaglobulinemic patient with monoclonal IgM proteins and measured complement consumption and C3a generation following the addition of Mod SpA. We observed complement consumption and C3a production only in Mod SpA-treated serum reconstituted with a VH3+, SpA-binding, IgM protein. Taken together, these results provide compelling evidence that the interaction of the Fab binding site of SpA and VH3+ Igs can lead to complement activation via the classical pathway. This novel interaction may have significant implications for the in vivo properties of a B cell superantigen.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Complement Activation*
  • Complement C1q / metabolism
  • Complement C3a / metabolism
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin Fab Fragments / immunology
  • Immunoglobulin Fc Fragments / immunology
  • Immunoglobulin M / metabolism
  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region / metabolism
  • Staphylococcal Protein A / immunology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / immunology
  • Superantigens / immunology*


  • Immunoglobulin Fab Fragments
  • Immunoglobulin Fc Fragments
  • Immunoglobulin M
  • Immunoglobulin Variable Region
  • Staphylococcal Protein A
  • Superantigens
  • Complement C1q
  • Complement C3a