The majority of cases of hemolytic-uremic syndrome and a smaller proportion of cases of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura have recently been shown to result from a toxin produced by enteric bacteria, referred to as verotoxin, or Shiga-like toxin. The predominant toxin-producing bacterial strain in North America is E. coli O157:H7, which causes hemorrhagic colitis in humans after ingestion of contaminated meat. The toxin is believed to gain entry to the circulation from the bowel wall; it then binds to specific glycolipid receptors abundant on renal vascular endothelial cells. The toxin inactivates ribosomes inside the cells, thereby killing them and producing the clinical manifestations of hemolytic-uremic syndrome. Recognition of the etiology of hemolytic-uremic syndrome may lead to better prospects for prevention and treatment.
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