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Blood. 2000 Oct 1;96(7):2451-9.

Activated monocytes in sickle cell disease: potential role in the activation of vascular endothelium and vaso-occlusion.

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  • 1Division of Hematology, Oncology and Transplantation, Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA.


Sickle cell anemia is characterized by painful vaso-occlusive crises. It is hypothesized that monocytes are activated in sickle cell disease and can enhance vaso-occlusion by activating endothelium. To test this hypothesis, human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) and human microvascular endothelial cells (MVEC) with sickle and normal mononuclear leukocytes were incubated, and endothelial activation was measured. Endothelial cells incubated with sickle mononuclear leukocytes were more activated than those incubated with normal mononuclear leukocytes, as judged by the increased endothelial expression of adhesion molecules and tissue factor and the adhesion of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMNL). Monocytes, not lymphocytes or platelets, were the mononuclear cells responsible for activating endothelial cells. Sickle monocytes triggered endothelial nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappaB) nuclear translocation. Cell-to-cell contact of monocytes and endothelium enhanced, but was not required for, activation. Antibodies to tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and interleukin-1-beta (IL-1beta) blocked activation of the endothelium by monocytes. Peripheral blood monocytes from patients with sickle cell disease had 34% more IL-1beta (P =.002) and 139% more TNF-alpha (P =.002) per cell than normal monocytes. Sixty percent of sickle monocytes expressed the adhesion molecule ligand CD11b on their surfaces compared with only 20% of normal monocytes (P =.002). Serum C-reactive protein, a marker of systemic inflammation, was increased 12-fold in sickle serum than in normal serum (P =.003). These results demonstrate that sickle monocytes are activated and can, in turn, activate endothelial cells. It is speculated that vascular inflammation, marked by activated monocytes and endothelium, plays a significant role in the pathophysiology of vaso-occlusion in sickle cell anemia.

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