Aluminum-containing emboli in infants treated with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation

N Engl J Med. 1988 Jul 14;319(2):75-9. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198807143190203.


We found fibrin thrombi or thromboemboli at autopsy in 22 of 23 infants with respiratory failure who had been treated with venoarterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). In addition, distinctive basophilic aluminum-containing emboli were found in 12 of the infants; the distribution of these emboli was similar to that of the thromboemboli, except that an aluminum-containing embolus was found in a lung in only 1 infant. Sixteen infants had pulmonary thrombi or thromboemboli. We also found friable aluminum-containing concretions adhering loosely to the mixing rods of heat exchangers that had been used to warm the blood flowing through the ECMO circuit; such concretions were not present on unused mixing rods. We propose that these aluminum-containing concretions developed as the silicone coating of the heat exchanger wore away and aluminum metal was exposed to warm, oxygenated blood and that fragments of aluminum-containing concretions formed emboli. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that aluminum-containing emboli were generally not present in the lungs, which are bypassed by ECMO. Although infarcts were found in 16 of the 23 infants, we cannot be certain whether any of the infarcts were caused by the aluminum-containing emboli.

MeSH terms

  • Aluminum / adverse effects*
  • Aluminum / metabolism
  • Embolism / etiology*
  • Embolism / metabolism
  • Embolism / pathology
  • Extracorporeal Circulation / adverse effects*
  • Extracorporeal Circulation / instrumentation
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Oxygenators, Membrane / adverse effects*


  • Aluminum