Recent studies have shown that only a subset of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules are able to present bacterial superantigens to T cells, leading to the suggestion that class-II associated peptides may influence superantigen presentation. Here, we have assessed the potential role of peptides on superantigen presentation by (a) analyzing the ability of superantigens to block peptide-specific T cell responses and (b) analyzing the ability of individual peptides to promote superantigen presentation on I-Ab-expressing T2 cells that have a quantitative defect in antigen processing. A series of peptides is described that specifically promote either toxic shock syndrome toxin (TSST) 1 or staphylococcal enterotoxin A (SEA) presentation. Whereas some peptides promoted the presentation of TSST-1 (almost 5,000-fold in the case of one peptide), other peptides promoted the presentation of SEA. These data demonstrate that MHC class II-associated peptides differentially influence the presentation of bacterial superantigens to T cells.

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