The Clinical Utility of the Heparin Neutralization Assay in the Diagnosis of Heparin-Induced Thrombocytopenia

Clin Appl Thromb Hemost. 2018 Jul;24(5):749-754. doi: 10.1177/1076029617721013. Epub 2017 Aug 4.


Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) remains diagnostically challenging. Immunoassays including PF4/heparin enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) have high sensitivity but low specificity. Whether the heparin neutralization assay (HNA) improves the diagnostic accuracy of the PF4/heparin ELISA for HIT is uncertain. In this study, to assess its clinical utility and evaluate whether it improves the diagnostic accuracy for HIT, we implemented HNA in conjunction with PF4/heparin ELISA over a 1-year period. A total of 1194 patient samples were submitted to the laboratory for testing from December 2015 to November 2016. Heparin neutralization assay alone is a poor predictor for HIT, but it has high negative predictive value (NPV): Cases with %inhibition <70% are always negative for serotonin release assay. It improves the diagnostic positive predictive value (PPV) of ELISA without compromising sensitivity: ELISA optical density (OD) ≥1.4 alone has a sensitivity of 88% (14/16) and a PPV of 61% (14/23); with HNA %inhibition ≥70%, the sensitivity remains 88% (14/16) and PPV is 82% (14/17). 4Ts score correlates with ELISA OD and predicts HIT; the predictive accuracy of 4Ts score is further improved by HNA. Interestingly, HNA %inhibition of <70% correlates with low 4Ts scores. Based on its high NPV, HNA has the potential to facilitate more timely and accurate HIT diagnosis.

Keywords: 4Ts score; PF4/heparin ELISA; heparin neutralization assay; heparin-induced thrombocytopenia; serotonin release assay.

MeSH terms

  • Heparin / adverse effects*
  • Heparin / immunology
  • Humans
  • Neutralization Tests*
  • Platelet Factor 4 / immunology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Thrombocytopenia / chemically induced
  • Thrombocytopenia / diagnosis*


  • Platelet Factor 4
  • Heparin