Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia: A stoichiometry-based model to explain the differing immunogenicities of unfractionated heparin, low-molecular-weight heparin, and fondaparinux in different clinical settings
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INTRODUCTION: Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) is caused by platelet-activating antibodies that recognize platelet factor 4 (PF4)/heparin complexes. The frequency of HIT is highly variable in different clinical settings, and is more frequent with unfractionated heparin (UFH) than with low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH), despite the in vitro observation that HIT antibodies activate platelets similarly well with LMWH as with UFH. An important difference between UFH, LMWH, and fondaparinux is their widely differing plasma concentrations. We aimed to provide a model that included anticoagulant concentrations and PF4 availability as risk factors influencing the anti-PF4/heparin immune response. MATERIALS AND METHODS: By photon correlation spectroscopy we determined the concentrations at which UFH, LMWH, and fondaparinux form complexes optimally with PF4. Plasma concentrations of UFH and LMWH were calculated based on ex vivo pharmacokinetic data, with information on fondaparinux and PF4 concentrations taken from the literature. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: The main features of our model are: optimal complex formation occurs at prophylactic-dose UFH and high PF4 levels, whereas therapeutic-dose LMWH concentrations are too high for optimal complex formation; in contrast, concentrations of fondaparinux are usually below the optimal stoichiometric range. Thus, immunization should occur more often in situations with major rather than minor platelet activation, and--for a given degree of platelet activation (PF4 availability)--as: prophylactic-dose UFH>therapeutic-dose UFH>prophylactic-dose LMWH, fondaparinux>therapeutic-dose LMWH. Our model provides a framework for explaining empirical observations that LMWH induces less anti-PF4/heparin antibodies than does UFH, and that anti-PF4/heparin antibodies are more often found in patients undergoing major surgery than in medical patients.
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