Increased von Willebrand factor binding to platelets in single episode and recurrent types of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura.
Extensive microvascular platelet aggregation is characteristic of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP). Previous studies have indicated that abnormalities of von Willebrand factor (vWf) are often present in TTP patient plasma. There has not been previously any direct evidence linking these abnormalities to the process of intravascular platelet aggregation in TTP. We used flow cytometry to analyze the binding of vWf to single platelets, and the presence of platelet aggregates, in the blood of 4 children with chronic relapsing (CR) TTP and 5 adults with single episode or recurrent TTP. vWf on the single platelets of CRTTP patients at all time points studied was significantly increased compared to controls, and was increased further as platelet counts decreased to levels below 40,000/microl. The single episode and recurrent adult TTP patients had platelet aggregates in the blood, as well as increased vWf on single platelets, before therapy commenced and thereafter until recovery was in process. In the one unresponsive single episode TTP patient, vWf on single platelets remained elevated, and platelet aggregates persisted, until her death. The platelet alpha-granular protein, P-selectin, was not increased on the single platelets of most TTP blood samples, suggesting that it is vWf from plasma (rather than from alpha-granules) that attaches to platelet surfaces in association with platelet aggregation. These results suggest that vWf-platelet interactions are involved in the platelet clumping process that characterizes TTP.