Dendritic cells are a small subset of human blood mononuclear cells that are potent stimulators of several T cell functions. Here we show they are 10-50-fold more potent than monocytes or B cells in inducing T cell responses to a panel of superantigens. Furthermore, dendritic cells can present femtomolar concentrations of superantigen to T cells even at numbers where other antigen-presenting cells (APCs) are inactive. Although dendritic cells express very high levels of the major histocompatibility complex products that are required to present superantigens, it is only necessary to pulse these APCs for 1 hour with picomolar levels of one superantigen, staphylococcal enterotoxin B, to maximally activate T cells. Our results suggest that very small amounts of superantigen will be immunogenic in vivo if presented on dendritic cells.

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