Send to

Choose Destination
N Engl J Med. 1997 Apr 17;336(16):1142-8.

Fulminant liver failure in association with the emetic toxin of Bacillus cereus.

Author information

Institute of Legal Medicine, University of Zurich, Switzerland.



A 17-year-old boy and his father had acute gastroenteritis after eating spaghetti and pesto that had been prepared four days earlier. Within two days, fulminant liver failure and rhabdomyolysis developed in the boy and he died. The father had hyperbilirubinemia and rhabdomyolysis but recovered. We investigated the cause of these illnesses.


Bacteria were isolated and characterized by conventional methods, and bacterial toxins were quantified by immunoassays and cell-culture techniques. The effect of the isolated toxin on the rates of oxidation of various substrates was analyzed in rat-liver mitochondria.


Autopsy of the boy's liver revealed diffuse microvesicular steatosis and midzonal necrosis that suggested impaired beta-oxidation of liver mitochondria due to a mitochondrial toxin. There was no evidence of ingestion of heavy metals, halogenated compounds, hepatotoxic drugs, or staphylococcal enterotoxin. However, high concentrations of Bacillus cereus emetic toxin were found in both the residue from the pan used to reheat the food and the boy's liver and bile. B. cereus was cultured from the intestinal contents and the pan residue. The emetic toxin isolated from the B. cereus cultures was found to be a mitochondrial toxin.


Fulminant liver failure developed after the ingestion of food contaminated with the B. cereus emetic toxin. The toxin inhibits hepatic mitochondrial fatty-acid oxidation, indicating that it caused liver failure in this patient.

Comment in

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Atypon
Loading ...
Support Center