Nonspecific binding to plasma proteins decreases the anti–factor Xa (anti-Xa) activity of unfractionated heparin (UFH) but not that of low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH). However, plasma proteins could influence the anti-thrombin (anti-IIa) activity of LMWH. To explore this possibility, we compared the effects of plasma proteins on the anti-IIa activities of UFH and LMWH. We also examined their effects on the anti-IIa activity of dermatan sulfate (DS) because, like UFH, DS binds to plasma proteins.
Methods and Results
There was almost complete recovery of anti-IIa activity when UFH, LMWH, or DS was added to plasma from each of 20 healthy volunteers. The addition of a chemically modified heparin with low affinity for antithrombin III to plasma containing UFH increased the anti-IIa activity in a concentration-dependent fashion by displacing UFH from plasma proteins. In contrast, addition of low-affinity heparin had no effect on the anti-IIa activity of LMWH. LMWH does not bind to plasma proteins because the bulk of the LMWH chains are <6000 D, and only heparin fractions >6000 D bind nonspecifically to plasma proteins. As further evidence that plasma proteins do not influence the anti-IIa activity of LMWH, the rate of thrombin inhibition in plasma in the presence of LMWH is virtually identical to that in buffer containing physiological amounts of the major antithrombins. In contrast, with UFH or DS, the rate of thrombin inhibition is twofold slower in plasma than in buffer.
Nonspecific binding of UFH to plasma proteins most likely contributes to the variable anti-IIa response to UFH in patients with thromboembolic disease. Although DS also binds to plasma proteins, the clinical significance of this finding is unclear. In contrast, because LMWH does not bind to plasma proteins, the anti-IIa activity of LMWH should be just as predictable as its anti-Xa activity.