Background: It has been hypothesized that platelets are activated, or made more activatible, by strenuous exercise and that these changes may play a role in the genesis of exercise-induced coronary ischemia. Previous studies have yielded conflicting results but have used assays (eg, platelet aggregation, plasma platelet factor 4, and plasma beta-thromboglobulin) that are subject to methodological problems.
Methods and results: In the present study, a whole blood flow cytometric method was used to study the platelet activation state and reactivity of 12 physically active and 12 sedentary individuals before and after standardized treadmill exercise testing. The peptide gly-pro-arg-pro (GPRP) was included in this assay to prevent fibrin polymerization and platelet aggregation, thus allowing the measurement of the reactivity to thrombin of individual platelets in the physiological milieu of whole blood. A panel of fluorescent-labeled monoclonal antibodies was used to monitor activation-dependent platelet surface changes: downregulation of glycoprotein (GP) Ib (6D1) and upregulation of GMP-140 (S12), the GPIIb-IIIa complex (PAC1), and GPIV (OKM5). In samples obtained before exercise, platelets not exposed to thrombin showed no evidence of in vitro activation. In the sedentary subjects, exercise caused a consistent and significant augmentation of the platelet activation state and reactivity as judged by the binding of 6D1 in the presence of thrombin 0.05 U/mL (P < .001), 0.005 U/mL (P = .001), and 0 U/mL (P = .004) and by the binding of OKM5 in the presence of thrombin 0.05 U/mL (P < .001), 0.005 U/mL (P = .029), and 0 U/mL (P = .035). Exercise increased the binding of PAC1 at only a single thrombin concentration (0.005 U/mL, P = .027) and did not alter the binding of S12 at any thrombin concentration. In contrast, in the physically active subjects, exercise failed to cause a consistent alteration in either platelet activation state or platelet reactivity. No significant differences were found between the 12 male and 12 female volunteers.
Conclusions: Strenuous exercise in sedentary subjects but not physically active subjects resulted in both platelet activation and platelet hyperreactivity. These changes were more readily detected with monoclonal antibodies directed against GPIb (6D1) and, to a lesser extent, GPIV (OKM5) rather than those directed against the GPIIb-IIIa complex (PAC1) and GMP-140 (S12). Platelet activation by thrombin, generally regarded as the most physiologically important agonist, can be studied in whole blood in a clinical setting through the use of the peptide GPRP.