Background: Long-standing pulmonary hypertension (PH) leads to structural alterations of the pulmonary vasculature and its endothelium, and occlusion of small vessels by microthrombi. In patients with PH, the search for factors inducing or worsening endothelium damage and in situ thrombi is still ongoing. Thrombomodulin (TM), an endothelial cell membrane protein, is a receptor for thrombin and a major anticoagulant proteoglycan.
Purpose: To analyze plasma TM levels in patients with different forms of severe PH.
Patients: We prospectively studied 32 consecutive patients with PH referred for heart, lung, or heart-lung transplantation: 11 patients with primary PH (group 1), 11 patients with secondary precapillary PH (Eisenmenger's syndrome, group 2) and 10 patients with secondary postcapillary PH due to congestive heart failure (group 3). Thirty-eight healthy subjects were also studied as a control group.
Methods: Plasma concentrations of TM were measured by an immunoenzymatic technique that uses two anti-TM monoclonal antibodies that have a strong avidity and react with different epitopes of the molecule.
Results: Thrombomodulin plasma levels decreased in all patients with precapillary PH, and this decrease was highly significant compared with controls (26 +/- 2 versus 44 +/- 2 ng/mL, P = 0.0001). In primary PH, the TM decrease was only significant in males whereas in the Eisenmenger's syndrome TM values were the lowest of all the patients studied, with mean values twice as low as controls (22 +/- 2 versus 44 +/- 2 ng/mL, P = 0.0001). In contrast, in postcapillary PH, studied only in males, TM levels were increased (85 +/- 17 versus 54 +/- 3 ng/mL, P = 0.02). Patients with precapillary PH had more severe disease than patients with postcapillary PH, with higher pulmonary artery pressure and pulmonary vascular resistance (P < 0.001). There was no correlation between TM plasma levels and all hemodynamic variables.
Conclusion: We found low levels of plasma TM in patients with precapillary PH but not in postcapillary PH compared with healthy controls. This may be related to the severity of PH and may contribute to the initiation or worsening of in situ thromboses frequently found in pulmonary hypertension. Further studies should analyze whether other markers of endothelial cell damage are correlated with plasma TM levels in patients with precapillary pulmonary hypertension.