Thrombotic microangiopathy, hemolysis and acute kidney injury are typical clinical characteristics of hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), which is predominantly caused by Shiga-toxin-producing Escherichia coli. Free heme aggravates organ damage in life-threatening infections, even with a low degree of systemic hemolysis. Therefore, we hypothesized that the presence of the hemoglobin- and the heme-scavenging proteins, haptoglobin and hemopexin, respectively impacts outcome and kidney pathology in HUS. Here, we investigated the effect of haptoglobin and hemopexin deficiency (haptoglobin-/-, hemopexin-/-) and haptoglobin treatment in a murine model of HUS-like disease. Seven-day survival was decreased in haptoglobin-/- (25%) compared to wild type mice (71.4%), whereas all hemopexin-/- mice survived. Shiga-toxin-challenged hemopexin-/- mice showed decreased kidney inflammation and attenuated thrombotic microangiopathy, indicated by reduced neutrophil recruitment and platelet deposition. These observations were associated with supranormal haptoglobin plasma levels in hemopexin-/- mice. Low dose haptoglobin administration to Shiga-toxin-challenged wild type mice attenuated kidney platelet deposition and neutrophil recruitment, suggesting that haptoglobin at least partially contributes to the beneficial effects. Surrogate parameters of hemolysis were elevated in Shiga-toxin-challenged wild type and haptoglobin-/- mice, while signs for hepatic hemoglobin degradation like heme oxygenase-1, ferritin and CD163 expression were only increased in Shiga-toxin-challenged wild type mice. In line with this observation, haptoglobin-/- mice displayed tubular iron deposition as an indicator for kidney hemoglobin degradation. Thus, haptoglobin and hemopexin deficiency plays divergent roles in Shiga-toxin-mediated HUS, suggesting haptoglobin is involved and hemopexin is redundant for the resolution of HUS pathology.

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