The clinicopathologic effects of intravenously administered purified verocytotoxin 1 (VT1; Shiga-like toxin 1) in 2-kg male rabbits was studied. The 50% lethal dose was 0.2 micrograms of protein per kg of body weight (2 x 10(4) 50% cytotoxic doses per kg). The clinical features included nonbloody diarrhea and a progressive flaccid paresis, usually culminating in death. The histopathology was characterized by edema and hemorrhage in the mucosa and submucosa of the cecum and edema, hemorrhage, and neuronal necrosis in the brain and gray matter of the spinal cord. Thrombotic microangiopathy, the characteristic histopathologic renal lesion in the hemolytic-uremic syndrome, was also found to be the underlying lesion in verocytotoxemic rabbits. To determine the specific distribution of VT1 in rabbit tissues, purified 125I-labelled VT1 was administered intravenously to 20 rabbits (both immunologically naive and VT1-immune rabbits). The highest specific uptake of 125I-VT1 was in the spinal cord, brain, cecum, colon, and small bowel in unimmunized animals but in the liver, spleen, and lungs in immune animals. Immunofluorescent staining of cecal and spinal cord tissues after intravenous administration of VT1 showed evidence of specific vascular endothelial cell binding of the toxin. The striking correlation of the central nervous system and gastrointestinal localization of 125I-VT1 with the sites of known histopathology is consistent with direct toxin-mediated injury to these tissues, initiated by the specific binding of VT1 to the vascular endothelium. We conclude that the vascular damage induced by VT1 in affected rabbit tissues is similar to that seen in the kidneys and other tissues in patients with verocytotoxin-producing Escherichia coli-associated hemolytic-uremic syndrome. This suggests that although the rabbit model fails to replicate human hemolytic-uremic syndrome, it is useful for studying the pathogenesis of the vascular lesions in verocytotoxin-producing E. coli-associated diseases
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