The haemostatic role of platelets was established in the 1880s by Bizzozero who observed their ability to adhere and aggregate at sites of vascular injury. It was only some 80 years later that the function of platelets in maintaining the structural integrity of intact blood vessels was reported by Danielli. Danielli noted that platelets help preserve the barrier function of endothelium during organ perfusion. Subsequent studies have demonstrated further that platelets are continuously needed to support intact mature blood vessels. More recently, platelets were shown to safeguard developing vessels, lymphatics, as well as the microvasculature at sites of leukocyte infiltration, including inflamed organs and tumours. Interestingly, from a mechanistic point of view, the supporting role of platelets in these various vessels does not necessarily involve the well-understood process of platelet plug formation but, rather, may rely on secretion of the various platelet granules and their many active components. The present review focuses on these nonconventional aspects of platelet biology and function by presenting situations in which platelets intervene to maintain vascular integrity and discusses possible mechanisms of their actions. We propose that modulating these newly described platelet functions may help treat haemorrhage as well as treat cancer by increasing the efficacy of drug delivery to tumours.
© 2011 International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis.