We have used staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB) to study the role of naive and memory T cells in the induction of peripheral tolerance. After administration of SEB to mice, the numbers of naive and memory T cells increase, as does the proportion of memory T cells, which are unresponsive to further stimulation with SEB in vitro. In addition, memory T cells generated in response to conventional antigen, which proliferate and provide help to B cells in the presence of the conventional antigen, fail to respond to superantigen. Hence, memory T cells, in general, are anergized by SEB. These results suggest that SEB-induced activation and anergy reflect the combined responses of naive and memory T cells. The differential activation vs. anergy of naive and memory T cells by superantigen may be related to cytokine production and may play an important role in the etiology of autoimmune diseases or immunodeficiency diseases such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

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