Ingested shiga toxin 2 (stx2) causes histopathological changes in kidney, spleen, and thymus tissues and mortality in mice

Reuven Rasooly, Paula M. Do, Stephen M Griffey, Jose G. Vilches-Moure, Mendel Friedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The Shiga toxin (Stx)-producing bacterial strain, Escherichia coli O157:H7, colonizes the distal small intestine and the colon, initiating serious illness, including hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), characterized by microangiopathic hemolytic anemia, thrombocytopenia, and acute renal failure. Although intravenous administration of purified Stx to primates has been able to reproduce the features of HUS, it has not been conclusively established as to whether ingestion of Stx alone without the bacterium poses a potential health risk. To help answer this question, in this study, we fed Shiga toxin 2 (Stx2) directly into the stomachs of mice via gavage. Our data show that ingestion of Stx2 at a concentration of 50 μg/ mouse induces weight loss and kills the mice at 3-5 days post-gavage. Additional studies revealed that the toxin retains activity at low pH, that its activity is neutralized by treatment with toxin-specific antibody, and that about 1% of the fed toxin is absorbed into the blood circulation. Lethality by intraperitoneal (IP) injection of Stx2 occurred at much lower doses than by ingestion. Detailed histopathological evaluation of stained tissues by light microscopy revealed severe histopathological changes in kidneys, spleen, and thymus but not in the pancreas, lymph nodes, heart, lungs, trachea, esophagus, stomach, duodenum, jejunum, ileum, cecum, and colon. The pathological changes in the kidney appeared similar to those seen in humans with HUS. The cited data suggest that (a) most but not all of the toxin is inactivated in the digestive tract, (b) part of the oral-ingested toxin is absorbed from the digestive tract into the circulation, (c) enough active toxin reaches susceptible organs to induce damage, and (d) Stx2 in the absence of toxin-producing bacteria can be harmful to mice. The results are clinically relevant for food safety because we also found that heat treatments (pasteurization) that destroy bacteria did not inactivate the heat-resistant toxin produced and secreted by the bacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9281-9286
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 25 2010


  • Escherichia coli O157:H7
  • Gavage
  • Histopathological
  • Neutralizing antibody
  • Oral-ingested
  • Shiga toxin2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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