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Blood. 2011 Jan 27;117(4):1370-8. doi: 10.1182/blood-2010-08-301424. Epub 2010 Oct 19.

Platelet factor 4 binds to bacteria, [corrected] inducing antibodies cross-reacting with the major antigen in heparin-induced thrombocytopenia.

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  • 1Institut für Immunologie und Transfusionsmedizin, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt Universität, Sauerbruchstrasse, Greifswald, Germany.

Erratum in

  • Blood. 2011 May 26;117(21):5783.


A clinically important adverse drug reaction, heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), is induced by antibodies specific for complexes of the chemokine platelet factor 4 (PF4) and the polyanion heparin. Even heparin-naive patients can generate anti-PF4/heparin IgG as early as day 4 of heparin treatment, suggesting preimmunization by antigens mimicking PF4/heparin complexes. These antibodies probably result from bacterial infections, as (1) PF4 bound charge-dependently to various bacteria, (2) human heparin-induced anti-PF4/heparin antibodies cross-reacted with PF4-coated Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli, and (3) mice developed anti-PF4/heparin antibodies during polymicrobial sepsis without heparin application. Thus, after binding to bacteria, the endogenous protein PF4 induces antibodies with specificity for PF4/polyanion complexes. These can target a large variety of PF4-coated bacteria and enhance bacterial phagocytosis in vitro. The same antigenic epitopes are expressed when pharmacologic heparin binds to platelets augmenting formation of PF4 complexes. Boosting of preformed B cells by PF4/heparin complexes could explain the early occurrence of IgG antibodies in HIT. We also found a continuous, rather than dichotomous, distribution of anti-PF4/heparin IgM and IgG serum concentrations in a cross-sectional population study (n = 4029), indicating frequent preimmunization to modified PF4. PF4 may have a role in bacterial defense, and HIT is probably a misdirected antibacterial host defense mechanism.

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