Introduction: Ethylene glycol (EG) poisoning often results in acute renal failure, particularly if treatment with fomepizole or ethanol is delayed because of late presentation or diagnosis. The mechanism has not been established but is thought to result from the production of a toxic metabolite.
Methods: A literature review utilizing PubMed identified papers dealing with renal toxicity and EG or oxalate. The list of papers was culled to those relevant to the mechanism and treatment of the renal toxicity associated with either compound. ROLE OF METABOLITES: Although the "aldehyde" metabolites of EG, glycolaldehyde, and glyoxalate, have been suggested as the metabolites responsible, recent studies have shown definitively that the accumulation of calcium oxalate monohydrate (COM) crystals in kidney tissue produces renal tubular necrosis that leads to kidney failure. In vivo studies in EG-dosed rats have correlated the severity of renal damage with the total accumulation of COM crystals in kidney tissue. Studies in cultured kidney cells, including human proximal tubule (HPT) cells, have demonstrated that only COM crystals, not the oxalate ion, glycolaldehyde, or glyoxylate, produce a necrotic cell death at toxicologically relevant concentrations. COM CRYSTAL ACCUMULATION: In EG poisoning, COM crystals accumulate to high concentrations in the kidney through a process involving adherence to tubular cell membranes, followed by internalization of the crystals. MECHANISM OF TOXICITY: COM crystals have been shown to alter membrane structure and function, to increase reactive oxygen species and to produce mitochondrial dysfunction. These processes are likely to be involved in the mechanism of cell death.
Conclusions: Accumulation of COM crystals in the kidney is responsible for producing the renal toxicity associated with EG poisoning. The development of a pharmacological approach to reduce COM crystal adherence to tubular cells and its cellular interactions would be valuable as this would decrease the renal toxicity not only in late treated cases of EG poisoning, but also in other hyperoxaluric diseases such as primary hyperoxaluria and kidney stone formation.