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SUPERANTIGENS that render deadly retroviruses helpless are the subject of intense scrutiny at Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Mass.
Pathology professor Brigitte Huber, PhD, did her doctoral work on these curious molecules shortly after the first was described in mice as a minor lymphocyte-stimulating antigen in the early 1970s. It is expressed in such small quantities that it was only detected by its amazing capacity to stimulate T cells. "It had been kind of an enigma," says Huber.
It also had "this peculiarity, it acted very differently from normal antigens," says Huber, in that it interacted only with the V-β segment of T-cell receptors, off to the side of where normal antigens link up with T cells.
But nobody could find the gene encoding this molecule, she remembers. It is expressed in such low quantities that it is "virtually impossible to raise in antisera," she says. "The only way
Cotton P, Skolnick AA. Superantigen Molecule, T-Cell Interaction Studied for Clinical Clues to Defense Against Retroviruses. JAMA. 1993;269(14):1766. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03500140012003