Bacterial superantigens are potent T cell activators, and superantigen proteins have been injected into mice and other animals to study T cell responses in vivo. When superantigen proteins are injected, however, the T cell stimulatory effects cannot be confined to specific tissues. Therefore, to target superantigen expression to specific tissues, we used gene transfer techniques to express bacterial superantigen genes in mammalian cells in vitro and in tissues in vivo. Murine, human, and canine cells transfected with superantigen genes in vitro all produced superantigen proteins both intracellularly and extracellularly, as assessed by bioassay, immunocytochemistry, and antigen ELISA. Superantigens produced by transfected eukaryotic cells retained their biologic specificity for T cell receptor binding. Intramuscular injection of superantigen plasmid DNA in vivo induced an intense intramuscular mononuclear cell infiltrate, an effect that could not be reproduced by intramuscular injection of superantigen protein. Intradermal and intravenous injection of superantigen DNA induced cutaneous and intrapulmonary mononuclear cell inflammatory responses, respectively. Thus, superantigen genes can be expressed by mammalian cells in vivo. Superantigen gene therapy represents a novel method of targeting localized T cell inflammatory reactions, with potential application to treatment of cancer and certain infectious diseases.