Candidate superantigens were screened for their ability to induce lysis of human histocompatibility leukocyte antigen class II-positive targets by human CD8+ influenza-specific cytotoxic T cell (CTL) lines. Clostridium perfringens enterotoxin (CPET) induced major histocompatibility complex unrestricted killing by some but not all CTL lines. Using "anchored" polymerase chain reactions, CPET was shown to selectively stimulate peripheral blood lymphocytes bearing T cell receptor V beta 6.9 and V beta 22 in five healthy donors. V beta 24, V beta 21, V beta 18, V beta 5, and V beta 6.1-5 appeared to be weakly stimulated. Antigen processing was not required for CPET to induce proliferation. Like the staphylococcal enterotoxins, CPET is a major cause of food poisoning. These data suggest that superantigenic and enterotoxigenic properties may be closely linked.

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