Background: Shiga toxin, produced by Escherichia coli O157:H7, is important for the pathogenicity of the epidemic form of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This toxin has recently been found to stimulate endothelin-1 synthesis in cultured endothelial cells in vitro. Methods: We investigated endothelin and cytokine levels in sera during a large outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 infection in Osaka, Japan, in 1996. Eleven patients with HUS and 9 patients with hemorrhagic colitis at the onset of E. coli O157:H7 infection were studied. Results: Serum IL-6 (p < 0.01), IL-8 (p < 0.05), IL-10 (p < 0.001) and endothelin (p < 0.001) levels were significantly increased in patients with HUS compared to those with colitis only. The serum thrombomodulin level, a molecular marker of endothelial damage, also showed a significant positive correlation with serum IL-6 (p < 0.01), IL-8 (p < 0.01), IL-10 (p < 0.01) and endothelin (p < 0.001) levels. In a HUS patient, the increase in serum IL-10 and endothelin levels reached a plateau prior to the peak of serum creatinine levels. Conclusion: Increased serum endothelin synthesis by Shiga toxin in vivo was proven in HUS secondary to E. coli O157:H7 infection. Increased serum endothelin and IL-10 levels were speculated to be associated with the development of HUS through vascular endothelial damage caused by E. coli O157:H7 infection.