The mechanism of action of thrombin inhibitors.
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Although heparin is widely used to treat arterial thrombosis, it has limitations in this setting. These limitations reflect heparin's inability to inactivate fibrin-bound thrombin, a major stimulus for thrombus growth, and the fact that heparin is neutralized by platelet factor 4, large quantities of which are released from platelets at the site of plaque rupture. Heparin also has a propensity to bind non-specifically to other plasma proteins. Because plasma levels of these heparin-binding proteins vary from patient to patient, the anticoagulant response to heparin is unpredictable and careful laboratory monitoring is necessary to ensure that an adequate anticoagulant effect is achieved. Direct thrombin inhibitors, such as bivalirudin and hirudin, overcome many of the limitations of heparin. These agents inhibit fibrin-bound thrombin, as well as fluid-phase thrombin. Direct thrombin inhibitors also produce a more predictable anticoagulant response than heparin because they do not bind to plasma proteins and are not neutralized by platelet factor 4. Bivalirudin appears to have a wider therapeutic window than hirudin. Because this may permit administration of higher doses of bivalirudin, this agent may also have an efficacy advantage over hirudin. Differences observed between hirudin and bivalirudin demonstrate that not all direct thrombin inhibitors have the same risk-benefit profile.
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