Chronic nasal and skin colonization with superantigen (SAg)-producing Staphylococcus aureus is well documented in humans. Given that trans-mucosal and trans-cutaneous absorption of SAgs can occur, we determined whether chronic exposure to small amounts of SAg per se could activate autoreactive CD4 + and CD8 + T cells and precipitate any autoimmune disease without further external autoantigenic stimulation. Because HLA class II molecules present SAg more efficiently than do mouse MHC class II molecules, HLA-DQ8 transgenic mice were implanted s.c. with mini-osmotic pumps capable of continuously delivering the SAg, staphylococcal enterotoxin B (total of 10 μg/mouse), or PBS over 4 wk. Chronic exposure to staphylococcal enterotoxin B resulted in a multisystem autoimmune inflammatory disease with features similar to systemic lupus erythematosus. The disease was characterized by mononuclear cell infiltration of lungs, liver, and kidneys, accompanied by the production of anti-nuclear Abs and deposition of immune complexes in the renal glomeruli. The inflammatory infiltrates in various organs predominantly consisted of CD4 + T cells bearing TCR Vb8. The extent of immunopathology was markedly reduced in mice lacking CD4 +T cells and CD28, indicating that the disease is CD4 + T cell mediated and CD28 dependent. The absence of disease in STAT4-deficient, as well as IFN-γ-deficient, HLA-DQ8 mice suggested the pathogenic role of Th1-type cytokines, IL-12 and IFN-γ. In conclusion, our study suggests that chronic exposure to extremely small amounts of bacterial SAg could be an etiological factor for systemic lupus erythematosus.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy