Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is an extracorporeal circulation used to manage patients with severe circulatory or respiratory failure. It is associated with both high bleeding and thrombosis risks, mainly as a result of biomaterial/blood interface phenomena, high shear stress, and complex inflammatory response involving the activation of coagulation and complement systems, endothelial cells, leukocytes, and platelets. Besides their critical role in hemostasis, platelets are important players in inflammatory reactions, especially due to their ability to bind and activate leukocytes. Hence, we reviewed studies on platelet function of ECMO patients. Moreover, we addressed the issue of platelet-leukocyte aggregates (PLAs), which is a key step in both platelet and leukocyte activation, and deserves to be investigated in these patients. A reduced expression of GPIb and GPVI was found under ECMO therapy, due to the shedding processes. However, defective platelet aggregation is inconsistently reported and is still not clearly defined. Due to the high susceptibility of PLAs to pre-analytical conditions, defining and strictly adhering to a rigorous laboratory methodology is essential for reliable and reproducible results, especially in the setting of complex inflammatory situations like ECMO. We provide results on sample preparation and flow cytometric whole blood evaluation of circulating PLAs.
Keywords: leukocytes; platelet activation; platelet aggregation; platelet-leukocyte aggregates; von Willebrand factor.