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Haematologica. 2002 Oct;87(10):1074-80.

Relationship between international normalized ratio values, vitamin K-dependent clotting factor levels and in vivo prothrombin activation during the early and steady phases of oral anticoagulant treatment.

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  • 1Coagulation Service and Thrombosis Research Unit, IRCCS H S.Raffaele, Milan, Italy.



In vitro studies have shown that the rate of prothrombin activation is linearly related to the concentration of factor II (FII) in the assay system, suggesting a key role of prothrombin levels in the expression of the antithrombotic activity of oral anticoagulant treatment (OAT). We investigated the in vivo relationship between prothrombin activation and vitamin K-dependent clotting factor levels during the early and steady phases of OAT in patients and in healthy volunteers.


The changes in international normalizezd ratio (INR) and in the plasma levels of FVII, FX, FII, protein C (PC) and prothrombin fragment 1.2 (F1+2) induced by OAT were monitored over 9 days in 10 patients not on heparin starting warfarin after heart valve replacement (HVR) and in 9 healthy volunteers submitted to an 8-day course of warfarin treatment. FII and F1+2 plasma levels were also measured in 100 patients on stable oral anticoagulant treatment with INRs ranging from 1.2 to 6.84.


Because HVR patients had subnormal FVII, FX and FII levels after surgery, INR values > 2.0 were attained already 24 hours after the first warfarin dose. In healthy volunteers, INR values greater than 2.0 were first observed after 72 hours. Nadir levels of FVII, PC, FX and FII were reached between 40 and 88 hours in HVR patients and between 72 and 192 hours in healthy volunteers. The FII apparent half-disappearance time (t/2) was 99 hours in HVR patients and 115 hours in healthy volunteers (p = ns). In HVR patients there was no normalization of initially elevated F1+2 levels until day 7 with an apparent t/2 of 132 hours. In healthy volunteers, a decrease to subnormal F1+2 levels was observed by day 8 of treatment (apparent t/2 = 107 hours). In both HVR patients and healthy volunteers, FII and PC levels were independent predictors of the changes in F1+2 levels (p = 0.0001). In patients on stable OAT, only FII levels were independent predictors of the variation in F1+2 levels (p = 0.0001).


During the early phase of oral anticoagulant treatment in vivo prothrombin activation is a function of the balance between FII and PC levels and is not significantly prevented until nadir levels of FII are obtained. This provides an explanation for the requirement of overlapping heparin and oral anticoagulant treatment for at least 48 hours after the achievement of therapeutic INR values in patients with thromboembolic diseases. In addition, in vivo prothrombin activation is a function of FII levels rather than INR values also in patients on stable oral anticoagulant treatment.

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