A toxin produced by Clostridium difficile has been implicated in the pathogenesis of antibiotic-associated colitis in humans and experimental animals. This study was undertaken in order to define the sequential evolution of caecal mucosal lesions in the hamster and to relate those lesions directly to the clostridial toxin. Sterile filtrates from a culture of C. difficile and from caecal contents of clindamycin-treated hamsters were studied with respect to their effects on the caecal mucosa and on cultured cell monolayers. The toxic filtrates both produced cellular swelling in vitro, and appeared to have a similar cytotoxic effect on caecal epithelial cells in vivo. Cellular damage was followed by extensive epithelial desquamation and the evolution of an acute pseudomembranous typhlitis. The pathogenetic sequence produced by the filtrates was identical with that previously described after direct clindamycin treatment. These findings demonstrate that intraluminal clostridial toxin can mediate development of the characteristic antibiotic-associated mucosal lesions.
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