Murine mammary tumor viruses (MMTVs) are retroviruses that encode superantigens capable of stimulating T cells via superantigen-reactive T cell receptor V beta chains. MMTVs are transmitted to the suckling offspring through milk. Here we show that B cell-deficient mice foster nursed by virus-secreting mice do not transfer infectious MMTVs to their offspring. No MMTV proviruses could be detected in the spleen and mammary tissue of these mice, and no deletion of MMTV superantigen-reactive T cells occurred. By contrast, T cell deletion and positive selection due to endogenous MMTV superantigens occurred in B cell-deficient mice. We conclude that B cells are essential for the completion of the viral life cycle in vivo, but that endogenous MMTV superantigens can be presented by cell types other than B cells.

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