Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia: a prospective study on the incidence, platelet-activating capacity and clinical significance of antiplatelet factor 4/heparin antibodies of the IgG, IgM, and IgA classes

J Thromb Haemost. 2007 Aug;5(8):1666-73. doi: 10.1111/j.1538-7836.2007.02617.x. Epub 2007 May 7.


Introduction: Platelet-activating antiplatelet factor 4/heparin (anti-PF4/heparin) antibodies are the major cause of heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT). However, the relative utility of functional (platelet activation) vs. antigen [enzyme-immunoassay (EIA)] assays, and the significance of assay discrepancies remain unresolved.

Methods: Consecutive patient sera (n = 1650) referred for diagnostic HIT testing were screened prospectively by both the heparin-induced platelet activation (HIPA) test and anti-PF4/heparin EIA - including individual classes (IgG, IgA, IgM) - with clinical correlations studied. Platelet microparticle and annexin-V-binding properties of the sera were also investigated.

Results: Only 205 (12.4%) sera tested positive in either the HIPA and/or EIA: 95 (46.3%) were positive in both, 109 (53.1%) were only EIA-positive, and, notably, only one serum was HIPA-positive/EIA-negative. Of 185 EIA-positive sera, only 17.6% had detectable IgM and/or IgA without detectable IgG. Among sera positive for EIA IgG, optical density values were higher when the sera were HIPA-positive (1.117 vs. 0.768; P < 0.0001), with widely overlapping values. Two HIPA-positive but EIA-IgG-negative sera became HIPA-negative following IgG depletion, suggesting platelet-activating antibodies against non-PF4-dependent antigens. Clinical correlations showed that HIPA-negative/EIA-positive patients did not develop thrombosis and had reasons other than HIT to explain thrombocytopenia. IgM/A antibodies did not increase microparticle penetration, but increased annexin-V binding.

Conclusions: The anti-PF4/heparin EIA has high ( approximately 99%) sensitivity for HIT. However, only about half of EIA-positive patients are likely to have HIT. Anti-PF4/heparin antibodies of IgM/A class and non-PF4-dependent antigens have only a minor role in HIT.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Heparin / immunology*
  • Heparin / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin A / chemistry*
  • Immunoglobulin G / chemistry*
  • Immunoglobulin M / chemistry*
  • Middle Aged
  • Platelet Activation
  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Platelet Factor 4 / immunology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Thrombocytopenia / chemically induced*


  • Immunoglobulin A
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Immunoglobulin M
  • Platelet Aggregation Inhibitors
  • Platelet Factor 4
  • Heparin