Platelet-endothelial interactions: sepsis, HIT, and antiphospholipid syndrome

Hematology Am Soc Hematol Educ Program. 2003:497-519. doi: 10.1182/asheducation-2003.1.497.


Acquired abnormalities in platelets, endothelium, and their interaction occur in sepsis, immune heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), and the antiphospholipid syndrome. Although of distinct pathogeneses, these three disorders have several clinical features in common, including thrombocytopenia and the potential for life- and limb-threatening thrombotic events, ranging from microvascular (sepsis > antiphospholipid > HIT) to macrovascular (HIT > antiphospholipid > sepsis) thrombosis, both venous and arterial. In Section I, Dr. William Aird reviews basic aspects of endothelial-platelet interactions as a springboard to considering the common problem of thrombocytopenia (and its mechanism) in sepsis. The relationship between thrombocytopenia and other aspects of the host response in sepsis, including activation of coagulation/inflammation pathways and the development of organ dysfunction, is discussed. Practical issues of platelet count triggers and targeted use of activated protein C concentrates are reviewed. In Section II, Dr. Theodore Warkentin describes HIT as a clinicopathologic syndrome, i.e., the diagnosis should be based on the concurrence of an appropriate clinical picture together with detection of platelet-activating and/or platelet factor 4-dependent antibodies (usually in high levels). HIT is a profound prothrombotic state (odds ratio for thrombosis, 20-40), and the risk for thrombosis persists for a time even when heparin is stopped. Thus, pharmacologic control of thrombin (or its generation), and postponing oral anticoagulation pending substantial resolution of thrombocytopenia, is appropriate. Indeed, coumarin-associated protein C depletion during uncontrolled thrombin generation of HIT can explain limb loss (coumarin-associated venous limb gangrene) or skin necrosis syndromes in some patients. In Section III, Dr. Jacob Rand presents the most recent concepts on the mechanisms of thrombosis in the antiphospholipid syndrome, and focuses on the role of beta(2)-glycoprotein I as a major antigenic target in this condition. Diagnosis of the syndrome is often complicated because the clinical laboratory tests to identify this condition have been empirically derived. Dr. Rand addresses the practical aspects of current testing for the syndrome and current recommendations for treating patients with thrombosis and with spontaneous pregnancy losses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiphospholipid Syndrome / complications
  • Antiphospholipid Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Antiphospholipid Syndrome / etiology
  • Blood Platelets / physiology*
  • Cell Communication*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / pathology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiology*
  • Hematologic Diseases / etiology
  • Hematologic Diseases / pathology*
  • Heparin / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Sepsis / complications
  • Thrombocytopenia / chemically induced
  • Thrombocytopenia / diagnosis
  • Thrombocytopenia / etiology
  • Thrombosis / etiology


  • Heparin