Platelet-leucocyte aggregation is augmented in cirrhosis and further increased by platelet transfusion

Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2018 May;47(10):1375-1386. doi: 10.1111/apt.14600. Epub 2018 Mar 12.


Background: Thrombocytopenia and circulating dysfunctional immune cells are commonly observed in patients with cirrhosis. Platelets may form complexes with neutrophils, monocytes and T cells modulating their function. We recently reported increased frequencies of platelet-complexed neutrophils in cirrhosis with evidence of neutrophil activation upon contact with healthy platelets in vitro. Whether this occurs in vivo following platelet transfusion and contributes to systemic inflammation and endothelial activation is unknown.

Aims: To characterise platelet-leucocyte aggregation in cirrhosis and to determine whether elective platelet transfusion results in perturbations associated with changes in markers of haemostasis, inflammation or endothelial activation.

Methods: We collected blood from cirrhotics (n = 19) before and following elective platelet transfusion. We measured platelet-leucocyte aggregation, activation and function, and markers of platelet activation, systemic inflammation and endothelial activation by flow cytometry. Haemostasis was assessed by thromboelastometry and plasma haemostatic proteins.

Results: We observed a 2.5-fold increase in platelet-complexed neutrophils in patients with cirrhosis compared with healthy subjects and twofold more platelets attached per monocyte and T cell. All platelet-complexed leucocytes expressed higher levels of activation markers and platelet-complexed neutrophils had higher resting oxidative burst and phagocytic capacity than their nonplatelet-complexed counterparts (P < 0.001); most pronounced in patients with cirrhosis. Paradoxically, platelet-complexed leucocyte frequency decreased with increasing MELD score. Platelet transfusion increased soluble CD40 ligand (platelet activation marker), the frequency of platelet-complexed monocytes (P < 0.05) and improved haemostatic status.

Conclusion: Cirrhotic patients have activated circulating platelet-complexed leucocytes with increased platelet-monocyte aggregation following elective platelet transfusion. Elective platelet transfusion might therefore exacerbate immune dysfunction in cirrhosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Blood Platelets / metabolism*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / metabolism*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monocytes / metabolism
  • Neutrophils / immunology
  • Platelet Activation / physiology
  • Platelet Transfusion*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Burst / physiology