Staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB) is a bacterial superantigen (SAg) that predominantly interacts with V(beta)8+ T cells. In vivo treatment of mice with SEB leads to an initial increase in the percentage of V(beta)8+ T cells, followed by a decrease in the numbers of these cells, eventually reaching lower levels than those found before treatment with the SAg. This decrease is due to apoptosis of the SEB-responding cells. In the present study, we use the distinct light scattering characteristics of apoptotic cells to characterize T cells that are being deleted in response to SEB in vivo. We show that dying, SEB-reactive T cells express high levels of Fas and Fas ligand (Fas-L), which are implicated in apoptotic cell death. In addition, the B cell marker B220 is upregulated on apoptotic cells. Moreover, we show that the generation of cells with an apoptotic phenotype is severely impaired in response to SEB in functional Fas-L-deficient mutant gld mice, confirming the role of the Fas pathway in SAg mediated peripheral deletion in vivo.

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