Research ArticleKidney Disease

Melamine-Induced Renal Toxicity Is Mediated by the Gut Microbiota

Science Translational Medicine  13 Feb 2013:
Vol. 5, Issue 172, pp. 172ra22
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3005114

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An Unwitting Microbial Culprit in Melamine Toxicity?

A tragic incident in China in 2008 involving the deliberate and illicit supplementation of milk with melamine resulted in the deaths of children from renal failure and highlighted the toxicity of this compound. In a new study, Zheng et al. study the toxicity of melamine in rats and report that microbial metabolism of melamine is crucial for forming the key metabolite that causes kidney damage. They discover that a species of Klebsiella can form cyanuric acid from melamine, which then forms complex precipitates that lead to kidney stone formation. The gut microbiota in general play an important role in human health and are known to affect the metabolism and toxicity of a number of drugs. The new findings suggest that individual variation in the gut microbial composition of children exposed to melamine may have been important in the observed patterns of mortality in exposed individuals.