Calpain activity in bone marrow transplant-associated thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura
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The pathophysiology of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) is not well understood. Recent studies have described a platelet aggregating factor which has been characterized as a calcium-dependent cysteine protease (calpain) in patients with TTP. A type of TTP, sometimes called secondary TTP, has been associated with bone marrow transplantation (BMT). However, unlike primary adult TTP, BMT-TTP has important differences and often does not respond well to plasma exchange. We describe the measurement of calpain activity in a group of BMT patients (with and without the clinical syndrome of transplant-associated TTP). Calpain was measured using a functional assay (14C-serotonin platelet release with inhibition by the cysteine protease inhibitor, leupeptin) in the sera of patients following autologous (auto) or allogeneic (allo) BMT. We also independently diagnosed and graded the BMT-TTP on the day of blood sampling using a scale that related to the percentage schistocytes and lactic dehydrogenase level. Calpain activity was detected in 1/8 (13%) grade 0-1 (6 auto, 2 allo); 6/16 (38%) grade 2 (3 auto, 13 allo) 9/16 (56%) grade 3 (2 auto, 14 allo) and 8/8 (100%) grade 4 BMT-TTP. Pre-BMT samples were tested in 10 allo-BMT patients who had positive calpain results post-BMT. One patient gave positive results before the transplant. This patient developed grade 4 BMT-TTP (day 24 post-BMT) and died despite apheresis. Positive calpain results were highly associated with neurologic symptoms, P < 0.001. Nineteen of 24 (79%) patients with positive results had neurologic symptoms compared to three of 21 (14%) patients with negative results. In conclusion, calpain was detected in half of the BMT patients with mild to moderate BMT-TTP (grades 2-3) and was uniformly found in those with severe (grade 4) BMT-TTP. Typically the calpain activity develops as TTP complicates the transplant process. It is unknown whether calpain contributes to the pathogenesis of this disorder, or is a secondary event.