Escherichia coli O157:H7 was isolated from a fatal case of haemorrhagic colitis with haemolytic uraemic syndrome and neurological symptoms. This strain induced diarrhoea and neurological symptoms including incoordination, ataxia, and convulsions in piglets after oral inoculation. Similar neurological signs were seen in piglets inoculated intraperitoneally with bacterial extracts containing a shiga-like toxin that is elaborated by the bacteria. Histological examination of the brains from these piglets showed vascular damage and small infarcts confined to the cerebellum. Comparable lesions were also seen in the brain of the child from whom E coli O157:H7 was isolated. We suggest that the cerebral changes in the piglets and in the patient were caused by the shiga-like toxin elaborated by E coli O157:H7. The shiga-like toxin is thought to cause neurological abnormalities by damage to cerebral blood vessels rather than by a direct effect on the neurones.
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