Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which is the most common cause of acute renal failure in infants and small children, is caused by verotoxin (VT)-producing Escherichia coli infection. Endothelial injury determines microvascular thrombosis and evidence is available from recent studies that suggests that leukocyte activation participates in endothelial damage. We studied here the effect of VT-1 on leukocyte adhesion to vascular endothelium under physiologic flow conditions. Human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) were incubated for 24 hours with VT-1 (0.1, 1, and 10 pmol/L) and then exposed to a total leukocyte suspension in a parallel plate flow chamber under laminar flow conditions (1.5 dynes/cm2). Adherent cells were counted by digital image processing. Results showed that VT-1 dose-dependently increased the number of adhering leukocytes to HUVECs as compared with unstimulated cells. The adhesive response elicited by VT-1 was comparable to that of interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta), one of the most potent inducers of endothelial cell adhesiveness. Exposure of HUVECs to VT-1 did not affect the number of rolling leukocytes, which was similar to that of control values. To examine the role of adhesion molecules in VT-1-induced leukocyte adhesion, HUVECs were incubated with mouse monoclonal antibodies against E-selectin, intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) before adhesion assay. Functional blocking of E-selectin, ICAM-1, and VCAM-1 on endothelial cells significantly inhibited VT-1-induced increase in leukocyte adhesion. In some experiments, before VT-1 incubation, HUVECs were pretreated for 24 hours with tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha; 100 U/mL), which is known to increase VT receptor expression on HUVECs. The number of adhering leukocytes on HUVECs exposed to TNF alpha and VT-1 significantly increased as compared with HUVECs incubated with VT-1 and TNF alpha alone. These results suggest that VT-1 modulates leukocyte-endothelium interaction, thus increasing leukocyte adhesion and upregulating adhesive proteins on endothelial surface membrane.