Targeted inhibition of thrombin attenuates murine neonatal necrotizing enterocolitis

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 May 19;117(20):10958-10969. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1912357117. Epub 2020 May 4.


Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is an inflammatory bowel necrosis of premature infants and an orphan disease with no specific treatment. Most patients with confirmed NEC develop moderate-severe thrombocytopenia requiring one or more platelet transfusions. Here we used our neonatal murine model of NEC-related thrombocytopenia to investigate mechanisms of platelet depletion associated with this disease [K. Namachivayam, K. MohanKumar, L. Garg, B. A. Torres, A. Maheshwari, Pediatr. Res. 81, 817-824 (2017)]. In this model, enteral administration of immunogen trinitrobenzene sulfonate (TNBS) in 10-d-old mouse pups produces an acute necrotizing ileocolitis resembling human NEC within 24 h, and these mice developed thrombocytopenia at 12 to 15 h. We hypothesized that platelet activation and depletion occur during intestinal injury following exposure to bacterial products translocated across the damaged mucosa. Surprisingly, platelet activation began in our model 3 h after TNBS administration, antedating mucosal injury or endotoxinemia. Platelet activation was triggered by thrombin, which, in turn, was activated by tissue factor released from intestinal macrophages. Compared to adults, neonatal platelets showed enhanced sensitivity to thrombin due to higher expression of several downstream signaling mediators and the deficiency of endogenous thrombin antagonists. The expression of tissue factor in intestinal macrophages was also unique to the neonate. Targeted inhibition of thrombin by a nanomedicine-based approach was protective without increasing interstitial hemorrhages in the inflamed bowel or other organs. In support of these data, we detected increased circulating tissue factor and thrombin-antithrombin complexes in patients with NEC. Our findings show that platelet activation is an important pathophysiological event and a potential therapeutic target in NEC.

Keywords: coagulation; inflammation; intestinal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Blood Platelets / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / metabolism*
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / metabolism*
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Intestinal Diseases / pathology
  • Intestines / injuries
  • Intestines / pathology
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Thrombin / metabolism*
  • Thrombocytopenia / metabolism


  • Thrombin