superantigens (SAgs) are among the most potent T cell mitogens known. They stimulate large fractions of T cells by cross-linking their T cell receptor with major histocompatibility complex class-II molecules on antigen presenting cells, resulting in T cell proliferation and massive cytokine release. To date, 26 different SAgs have been described in the species S. aureus
; they comprise the toxic shock syndrome toxin (TSST-1), as well as 25 staphylococcal enterotoxins (SEs) or enterotoxin-like proteins (SEls). SAgs can cause staphylococcal food poisoning and toxic shock syndrome and contribute to the clinical symptoms of staphylococcal infection. In addition, there is growing evidence that SAgs are involved in allergic diseases. This review provides an overview on recent epidemiological data on the involvement of S. aureus
SAgs and anti-SAg-IgE in allergy, demonstrating that being sensitized to SEs—in contrast to inhalant allergens—is associated with a severe disease course in patients with chronic airway inflammation. The mechanisms by which SAgs trigger or amplify allergic immune responses, however, are not yet fully understood. Here, we discuss known and hypothetical pathways by which SAgs can drive an atopic disease.
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