Immunology and clinical importance of antiphospholipid antibodies

Adv Immunol. 1991;49:193-280. doi: 10.1016/s0065-2776(08)60777-4.


Having reviewed the literature on the association of aPL antibodies with clinical manifestations, it is clear that this group of autoantibodies are of considerable importance. The presence of aPL antibodies in some but not all individuals confers a risk of a clinical syndrome characterized by recurrent arterial or venous thrombosis, thrombocytopenia, hemolytic anemia, or positive Coombs' test, and in females, recurrent idiopathic fetal loss. In SLE, the risk is approximately 40%, compared with a risk of 15% in the absence of aPL antibodies. However, only one half of persons possessing these antibodies have SLE, and overall the risk is around 30%. In some circumstances, such as in chlorpromazine or infection-associated aPL antibodies, there appears to be no increased risk. At the other end of the spectrum are seen patients whose only clinical manifestations comprise features of this clinical syndrome, and this entity has been designated the primary antiphospholipid syndrome (PAPS). aPL antibodies are also important because they are not uncommon. They have been found frequently in women with idiopathic recurrent fetal loss (30%), in non-autoimmune patients with ischemic heart disease (20%), or venous thrombosis (up to 30%), or stroke (4-47%), and in chronic immune thrombocytopenia (30%). These autoantibodies can be detected using sensitive solid-phase immunoassays employing the CL antigen, or in appropriate coagulation tests to detect LA activity. These assays are simple to perform but require care in selection of the best test and in interpretation of results. Current tests do not distinguish between those persons at risk of the clinical events and those not at risk. Detection of specific isotypes (especially IgG) and antibody level may aid in such a designation. Treatment of aPL antibody-associated syndromes remains a controversial subject. Since thromboses are associated with significant morbidity and potential mortality, there is a good argument for long-term preventive antithrombotic therapy, at least for as long as the antibodies are detectable, in those patients in whom clinical complications have previously occurred. It is not generally recommended that this treatment be offered to individuals in whom aPL antibodies are detected but who have not suffered previous thromboses, since the risk of such events does not appear to be equal within a group of aPL antibody-positive persons. This particularly applies to pregnant women, since live births and uncomplicated pregnancies are observed regularly in the presence of aPL antibodies without specific treatment. A previous history of at least one unexplained, late fetal loss is considered a prerequisite before intervention in subsequent pregnancies.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Hemolytic / etiology
  • Autoantibodies / immunology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology*
  • Blood Platelets / immunology
  • Cardiolipins / immunology
  • Humans
  • Infections / immunology
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines / immunology
  • Phospholipids / immunology*
  • Thrombocytopenia / etiology
  • Thrombosis / etiology


  • Autoantibodies
  • Cardiolipins
  • Phosphatidylethanolamines
  • Phospholipids