- The anticoagulant response to fixed doses of unfractionated heparin is variable in patients with acute illness, and some patients with venous thromboembolism require high doses of heparin to achieve a therapeutic anticoagulant response. To investigate the mechanism responsible for the variable anticoagulant response to heparin in acute illness, heparin clearance and nonspecific protein binding were compared in control and endotoxin-treated rabbits. The plasma half-life (t 1/2) of radiolabeled heparin increased in a dose-dependent fashion. At all doses of heparin studied, the t 1/2 of radiolabeled heparin was unaffected by experimental endotoxemia when compared with control animals. In contrast, the amount of heparin recovered was lower in the plasma of endotoxemic animals because of increased binding to plasma proteins. A chemically modified heparin with low affinity for antithrombin III was added ex vivo or in vivo to displace heparin bound nonspecifically to plasma proteins. The proportion of heparin bound to plasma proteins was significantly greater in the plasma of endotoxemic animals than in controls. These findings indicate that acute inflammation alters heparin recovery but does not affect heparin clearance. The variability of the anticoagulant response to heparin seen in patients with thromboembolism may, in part, be due to this effect of the underlying disease process.