It has recently been shown that open reading frames in the 3' long terminal repeats of mouse mammary tumor viruses encode superantigens. These viral superantigens (vSAGs) stimulate most T cells expressing appropriate V beta s almost regardless of the rest of the variable components of the T cell receptors (TCR) expressed by those cells. vSAGs produce a type II integral membrane protein with a nonessential short cytoplasmic domain and a large glycosylated extracellular COOH-terminal domain, which is predicted to interact with major histocompatibility complex class II molecules and the TCR. The transmembrane region of vSAG also has an internal positively charged lysine residue of unknown significance. A set of chimeric and mutant vSAG genes has been used in transfection experiments to show that only the extreme COOH-terminal portion of vSAGs determine their TCR V beta specificities, and to show that the lysine residue in the transmembrane domain is not essential for the function of vSAG.

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