Superantigens and their Association with Dermatological Inflammatory Diseases: Facts and Hypotheses
Superantigens have been suggested to play an important role in the pathogenesis of several inflammatory skin diseases as well as systemic diseases such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, vasculitis, T-cell lymphoma and autoimmune diseases. Infections often precede the onset and relapse of these diseases, and antibiotic treatment with or without additional glucocorticosteroids and immunoglobulins is occasionally successful. Superantigens are microbial proteins that are able to stimulate up to 20% of the naive T-cell population in a non-specific way. They are produced by Gram-positive and -negative bacteria as well as by viruses, parasites and yeasts. The importance of the pathogenic role of superantigens is determined by the potency to induce inflammation by extensive cytokine release after T-cell stimulation and/or T-cell-mediated cytotoxicity and, thereby, tissue damage. Furthermore, superantigens may be able to induce autoimmune processes by stimulation of autoreactive T-cells as well as autoantibody production by stimulation of B-cells. Among the diseases associated with superantigens, atopic dermatitis, guttate and chronic plaque psoriasis, as well as Kawasaki disease, are by far the best-characterized. Nevertheless, conflicting results have been obtained and formal proof of a pathogenic role of superantigens in these diseases is still lacking. The aim of this review is to summarize the data on superantigens in terms of their distribution in microorganisms, their interactions with the adaptive immune system and their contribution to skin pathology.