We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Superantigen?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated Mar 03, 2024
Our promise to you
The Health Board is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At The Health Board, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Superantigens are proteins that cause the T-cells of the immune system to over-react to infection. They are produced by certain infectious bacteria and viruses. The immune system over-reaction to the antigen causes a group of diseases that manifest in fever and shock, such as food poisoning, toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease.

Common bacterial species that may use a superantigen as part of their virulence strategy are staphylococci and streptococci. These bacteria usually live harmlessly on the body but can cause infections in certain circumstances. The superantigens of each species are, like antigens, molecules the immune system recognizes as foreign.

Superantigens cause symptoms of illness by tricking the T-cells of the immune system into over-reacting to these molecules. Parts of a bacterium or a virus are usually recognized by the macrophage cells of the immune system. The macrophage ingests the foreign invaders and breaks them down. Then the macrophage takes parts of the broken-down invader or other molecules that it ingested and posts the fragments on the outside of the cell using a major histocompatibility complex (MHC) to hold the fragment.

A T-cell comes along and uses its T-cell receptor molecule on the outside of its own cell to bind to the fragment. Once the T-cell recognizes the fragment, it begins an immune response. Each T-cell recognizes certain MHCs and certain fragments and usually responds only to those particular stimuli. Superantigens bind to the MHC presenter molecule differently than regular antigens, so more T-cells are tricked into recognizing the superantigen fragment than would recognize a regular fragment.

A normal antigen causes from 0.001 percent to 0.0001 percent of T-cells to produce an immune response. A superantigen causes from 2 percent to 20 percent of T-cells to produce a response. When a T-cell is exposed to a normal antigen, it releases molecules with immunological action and these molecules lead to the normal inflammatory pathway, which is designed to help rid the body of infection. A superantigen activates many more T-cells than regular antigens, so this inflammatory response is exaggerated, and fever, rash, low blood pressure and shock can occur.

Superantigens are medium-size proteins that are highly resistant to heat and to protein-degrading enzymes. These characteristics help the proteins to survive cooking and digestive enzymes, making superantigens important virulence factors in food-borne disease. They also play a role in autoimmune diseases, toxic shock syndrome, diabetes and Kawasaki disease, a leading cause of acquired heart disease in children.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.