When purified human globin is injected intravenously into rats it produces acute renal failure characterized by tubular casts and oliguria. The globin is identifiable within vesicles and channels in the cytoplasm of the proximal tubules, through which it passes from lumen to basal side with no apparent serious effect on the cells. When a very minimal amount of globin is taken up by cells of the distal limb of Henle's loop or distal tubules (lower nephron), a markedly deleterious effect is apparent and the cells die within a short time. The mixture of cell debris and precipitated globin forms plugs within the confines of the basement membranes of the former distal limbs and distal tubules. After a number of lower nephrons are plugged a disruption of proximal tubules is found, which apparently results from the effect of back pressure in the obstructed nephrons.
We suggest that any amount in excess of a low threshold of globin, either alone or combined with heme or related material, has a toxic effect on lower nephron cells. Once initiated, the toxic effect is not reversible and the resulting plug of debris and precipitate will occlude the lumen. If a sufficient number of nephrons are made non-functional the animal becomes anuric; otherwise it is oliguric. A high rate of urine flow will protect against the excess absorption of material and thus against acute renal failure.