Mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV) infection of adult mice induces a strong response to superantigen (Sag) in their draining lymph nodes, which results from the presentation of Sag by MMTV-infected B cells to Sag-reactive T cells. To date, infection with physiologically relevant doses of MMTV can be detected in vivo only after several days of Sag-mediated T-cell-dependent amplification of infected B cells. Furthermore, no efficient in vitro system of detecting MMTV infection is available. Such a model would allow the dissection of the early phase of infection, the assessment of the contributions of different cell types, and the screening of large panels of molecules for their potential roles in infection and Sag response. For these reasons, we have established an in vitro model for detecting infection which is as sensitive and reproducible as the in vivo model. We found that the viral envelope (Env) protein is crucial for target cell infection but not for presentation of Sag. Furthermore, we show that infection of purified B cells with MMTV induces entry of Sag-responsive T cells into the cell cycle, while other professional antigen-presenting cells, such as dendritic cells, are much less efficient in inducing a response
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