Mechanisms of response to treatment in autoimmune thrombocytopenic purpura

N Engl J Med. 1989 Apr 13;320(15):974-80. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198904133201505.


To determine the mechanisms of an increase in the platelet count after therapy for autoimmune thrombocytopenic purpura, we determined the survival time and localization of radiolabeled autologous platelets and measured platelet-associated immunoglobulin levels before and after prednisone therapy or splenectomy in 19 patients with the disease. Eleven of 12 patients (92 percent) responded to prednisone with a mean threefold increase in the platelet count, resulting from increased platelet production (P less than 0.005); platelet survival was unchanged. Treatment with steroids failed in only one patient, whose pretreatment platelet production was already above normal. After splenectomy, 6 of 10 patients had a mean fourfold rise in the platelet count that correlated with increased platelet survival (P less than 0.005), together with improved platelet recovery (the percentage of platelets circulating in the blood immediately after the injection). Platelet production was unchanged. Base-line 111In-labeled platelet localization in the liver was normal in five patients in whom splenectomy was effective and increased to above normal in two of three in whom it was ineffective. Total platelet localization in the liver and spleen decreased by more than half after successful splenectomy (P less than 0.001), whereas it decreased by less than 25 percent after unsuccessful splenectomy. Platelet-associated immunoglobulin levels neither predicted nor correlated with treatment responses to prednisone or splenectomy. We conclude that prednisone improves platelet counts primarily by increasing platelet production, whereas the effect of splenectomy is to prolong platelet survival. Baseline measurements of platelet turnover and of platelet localization in the liver may be helpful in predicting the response to prednisone or splenectomy, respectively.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Autoimmune Diseases / therapy*
  • Blood Platelets / immunology
  • Blood Platelets / physiology*
  • Cell Survival
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulins / analysis
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Platelet Count
  • Prednisone / therapeutic use
  • Purpura, Thrombocytopenic / therapy*
  • Spleen / pathology
  • Splenectomy


  • Immunoglobulins
  • Prednisone