Extracellular Histones Increase Tissue Factor Activity and Enhance Thrombin Generation by Human Blood Monocytes

Shock. 2016 Dec;46(6):655-662. doi: 10.1097/SHK.0000000000000680.


Objectives: Sepsis is characterized by systemic activation of inflammatory and coagulation pathways in response to infection. Recently, it was demonstrated that histones released into the circulation by dying/activated cells may contribute to sepsis pathology. Although the ability of extracellular histones to modulate the procoagulant activities of several cell types has been investigated, the influence of histones on the hemostatic functions of circulating monocytes is unknown. To address this, we investigated the ability of histones to modulate the procoagulant potential of THP-1 cells and peripheral blood monocytes, and examined the effects of plasmas obtained from septic patients to induce a procoagulant phenotype on monocytic cells.

Methods/results: Tissue factor (TF) activity assays were performed on histone-treated THP-1 cells and blood monocytes. Exposure of monocytic cells to histones resulted in increases in TF activity, TF antigen, and phosphatidylserine exposure. Histones modulate the procoagulant activity via engagement of Toll-like receptors 2 and 4, and this effect was abrogated with inhibitory antibodies. Increased TF activity of histone-treated cells corresponded to enhanced thrombin generation in plasma determined by calibrated automated thrombography. Finally, TF activity was increased on monocytes exposed to plasma from septic patients, an effect that was attenuated in plasma from patients receiving unfractionated heparin (UFH).

Conclusions: Our studies suggest that increased levels of extracellular histones found in sepsis contribute to dysregulated coagulation by increasing TF activity of monocytes. These procoagulant effects can be partially ameliorated in sepsis patients receiving UFH, thereby identifying extracellular histones as a potential therapeutic target for sepsis treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Coagulation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Histones / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Monocytes / drug effects*
  • Monocytes / metabolism*
  • Phosphatidylserines / pharmacology
  • Plasma / metabolism
  • Sepsis / immunology
  • Sepsis / metabolism
  • THP-1 Cells
  • Thrombin / metabolism*
  • Thromboplastin / metabolism*


  • Histones
  • Phosphatidylserines
  • Thromboplastin
  • Thrombin