Key events that initiate and propagate coagulation are the redistribution of negatively charged phospholipids to the cell surface and the exposure of tissue factor to the blood. The appropriate negatively charged phospholipids, primarily phosphatidylserine, can arise as a result of either cellular activation with strong agonists like thrombin together with collagen in the case of platelets or tissue damage or death. The negatively charged phospholipids promote the activation of factor X and IX by the tissue factor-factor VIIa pathway, the activation of prothrombin by factors Va and Xa, and the activation of factor X by factors VIIIa and IXa. In addition, it has been suggested that oxidation of a specific disulfide in tissue factor is important for expression of its procoagulant activity, a process that may be regulated by protein disulfide isomerase, although this concept remains controversial.
Normally tissue factor is not present on cells in contact with blood. Tissue factor is found on extravascular cells surrounding the blood vessel so that a potent procoagulant surface is exposed when the endothelium is breached. This helps to seal the breach. Intravascularly, inflammatory stimuli can induce tissue factor synthesis and expression on leukocytes, particularly monocytes, providing a mechanism for the initiation of coagulation. This response likely contributes to disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Animal studies suggest that this coagulation response plays a role in innate immunity and prevents the dissemination of infectious agents.
Other key events that can play a major role in the pathogenesis of thrombosis, at least in animal models, involve the release of intracellular components, including ribonucleic acid (RNA) and polyphosphates. These can trigger activation of factor XII, which initiates coagulation via the contact pathway. Although factor XII does not appear to contribute to hemostasis, it drives several models of thrombosis, including pulmonary embolism and myocardial infarction.
Polyphosphates are stored in the dense granules of platelets and when released, contribute to the procoagulant potential of the platelet. In regions of cellular death or severe inflammation, histones released from the tissue can bind to these polyphosphates, increasing the procoagulant activity more than 20-fold. Heparin analogues can block polyphosphate stimulation of coagulation by histones. In addition, neutrophils in hyperinflammatory environments can release their nuclear contents to form neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). These NETs are effective in killing bacteria and other pathogens and also provide a potent agonist for the activation of platelets and the development of thrombi. Interestingly, heparin, an anticoagulant often used in the setting of inflammation, can disrupt the NETs and diminish the activation of platelets by histones and NETs.
Inhibition of Coagulation
There are three major natural anticoagulant mechanisms that serve to limit the coagulation process. These are tissue factor pathway inhibitor (TFPI), which blocks the initiation of coagulation by tissue factor-factor VIIa; the antithrombin-heparin mechanism, which inhibits thrombin and factors VIIa, Xa, and IXa; and the protein C pathway, which inactivates factors Va and VIIIa.
- Tissue factor pathway inhibitor (TFPI)
- Antithrombin-heparin mechanism
- Protein C pathway
Tissue Factor Pathway Inhibitor
TFPI is a complex molecule composed of three similar domains related to a protease inhibitor type known as Kunitz inhibitor. To inhibitor the tissue factor-factor VIIa complex, the Kunitz-1 domain of TFPI binds factor VIIa, whereas the Kunitz-2 domain binds factor Xa, either because the factor X is activated on tissue factor or (probably less effectively) by first reacting with factor Xa in solution and then inhibiting factor VIIa bound to tissue factor, thus blocking the initiation of coagulation. The carboxy terminal portion of TFPI is very basic, potentially facilitating interaction with the endothelium. Protein S can augment the activity of TFPI by increasing the rate of TFPI inactivation of factor Xa. The physiologic importance of TFPI is highlighted by the fact that gene deletion results in embryonic lethality apparently because of thrombosis and subsequent hemorrhage.
- Inhibiting Xa (Xa-TFPI complex)
- Xa-TFPI complex Inhibits FVIIa-TF complex
- TFPI is necessary for life
Antithrombin and Heparin
Antithrombin is the major inhibitor of the coagulation proteases thrombin, factor VIIa, factor Xa, and factor IXa. Antithrombin is a member of a large class of protease inhibitors referred to as serine protease inhibitors and abbreviated sermons. Antithrombin forms a very tight complex with these proteases. This reaction is rather slow with a half-life in the order of 30 seconds in plasma. Heparin markedly accelerates the reaction, thus accounting for most of its anticoagulant activity. There is a “bait” region in antithrombin that is involved in its interaction with the proteases. In the absence of heparin, this bait region is only partially available to the protease, resulting in the slow inhibition. Heparin binding to antithrombin induces a conformational change in antithrombin that enhances protease access to the bait loop.
In addition to the conformational change in antithrombin, heparin has additional roles in the inhibition of coagulation proteases. High-molecular-weight heparin can bind to both antithrombin and the protease, creating a situation where both reactants are brought into close proximity, thus increasing the reaction rate. This function is of variable importance with different proteases of the cascade. It is essential for thrombin inhibition, but plays a less important role in the inhibition of factor Xa. High-molecular-weight heparins accelerate factor Xa inhibition somewhat better than low-molecular-weight forms, but in contrast to most of the other heparin-mediated inhibitory functions, the additional acceleration gained by the high-molecular-weight forms is dependent on calcium ions. It is of interest that as heparins become processed to generate lower-molecular-weight fractions, such as enoxaparin, the capacity to promote thrombin inhibition versus factor Xa inhibition decreases. With the smallest functional form of heparin, the synthetic pentasaccharide fondaparinux, the ability to augment thrombin inhibition is almost completely lost, while good inhibition of factor Xa is maintained. Although heparin is a potent antithrombin-dependent anticoagulant, it is not effective against clot-bound thrombin or the factor Va-factor Xa complex assembled on membrane surfaces.
The importance of antithrombin is documented by the clinical observation that antithrombin deficiency, even to 50% of normal, is associated with significant thrombotic problems in humans and mice. Deletion of the gene in mice causes embryonic lethality, apparently in a mechanism that involves thrombosis followed by hemorrhage. Although heparin-like proteoglycans have been proposed to be important in modulating antithrombin function, immunohistochemical analysis indicates that most of these are localized to the basolateral side of the endothelium. No definitive deletion of heparin sulfate proteoglycans has been reported, possibly because there are alternative mechanisms for its biosynthesis. However, deletion of ryudocan, another heparin-like proteoglycan, is associated with a thrombotic phenotype.
- Antithrombin is ineffective against clot-bound thrombin or the factor Va-factor Xa complex assembled on membrane surfaces
- Heparin itself has no anticoagulation effect
- Heparin accelerates the anticoagulation capacity of antithrombin
- Deficiency of heparin-like proteoglycan potentiates patients at risk of thrombosis
The Thrombomodulin and Protein C Anticoagulation Pathway
The protein C pathway serves many roles, probably the primary role being to work to generate activated protein C (APC) that in turn inactivates factors Va and VIIIa to inhibit coagulation. The importance of this anticoagulant activity is readily apparent because patients born without protein C die in infancy of massive thrombotic complication (purport fulminans) unless provided a protein concentrate.
The protein C anticoagulant pathway serves to alter the function of thrombin, converting it from a procoagulant enzyme into the initiator of an anticoagulant response. This occurs when thrombin binds to thrombomodulin, a proteoglycan receptor primarily on the surface of the endothelium. Thrombomodulin binds thrombin with high affinity, depending on the posttranslational modifications of thrombomodulin. Binding thrombin to thrombomodulin blocks most of thrombin’s procoagulant activity such as the ability to clot fibrinogen, activate platelets, and activate factor V but does not prevent thrombin inhibition by antithrombin. The thrombin-thrombomodulin complex gains the ability to rapidly activate protein C. In the microcirculation, where there is high ratio of endothelial surface to blood volume, it has been estimated that the thrombomodulin concentration is in the range of 100 to 500 nM. Thus a single pass through the microcirculation effectively strips thrombin from the blood, initiates protein C activation, and holds a coagulantly inactive thrombin molecule in place for inhibition by antithrombin or protein C inhibitor. Activation of protein C is augmented approximately 20-fold in vivo by the endothelial cell protein C receptor (EPCR). EPCR binds both protein C and APC with similar affinity. The EPCR-APC complex is capable of cytoprotective functions, but at least with soluble EPCR, this complex is not an effective anticoagulant. Instead, when APC dissociates from EPCR, it can interact with protein S to inactivate factors Va and VIIIa and thus inhibit coagulation. Factor V increases the rate at which the APC-protein S complex inactivates factor VIIIa.
Thrombomodulin also increases the rate at which thrombin activates thrombin-activatable fibrinolysis inhibitor (TAFI) to a similar extent as it dose protein C. Once activated, TAFI releases C-terminal lysine and arginine residues of fibrin chains. C-terminal lysine residues on fibrin enhance fibrin degradation by serving as plasminogen- and tissue plasminogen activator-binding sites. Consequently, their removal by activated TAFI (TAFIa) attenuates clot lysis.
More than any other regulatory pathway except tissue factor, the protein C pathway is sensitive to regulation by inflammatory mediators. Tumor necrosis factor-alpha and IL-1beta downregulate thrombomodulin both in cell culture and in at least some patients with sepsis. Downregulation of thrombomodulin has been observed in animal models of diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, reperfusion injury in the heart, over human atheroma, and in villitis, in addition to sepsis.
- Protein C, thrombomodulin, and EPCR are essential for life
- Protein C targets against factors Va and VIIIa
- EPCR increases the protein C activation by thrombin-thormbomodulin complex by about 20-fold
- Protein C’s anticoagulation function needs the help of protein S
- Thrombin-thrombomodulin complex removes the C-terminal lysine residues of fibrin, which attenuates clot fibrinolysis.
Regulation of Fibrinolysis
Fibrinolysis is the process by which fibrin clots are dissolved, either through natural mechanisms or with the aid of pharmaceutical interventions. Plasmin is the serine protease that solubilizes fibrin. Plasmin is generated by the activation of its precursor plasminogen either by natural activators, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), the major activator in the circulation, or urokinase plasminogen activator (uPA), or by administration of recombinant tPA or streptokinase, a bacterial protein that promotes plasmin generation and aids in dissemination of the bacteria. Staphylokinase, a protein from Staphylococcus aureus, is similar to streptokinase and also has been examined as a potential therapeutic.
Fibrin plays an active role in its own degradation because it binds plasminogen and tPA, thereby concentrating them on the fibrin surface and promoting their interaction. The resultant plasmin cleaves fibrin and exposes C-terminal lysine residues that serve as additional plasminogen and tPA binding sites. TAFIa attenuates fibrinolysis by releasing these C-terminal lysine residues. Furthermore, lysine analogues, such as ε-aminocaproic acid or tranexamic acid, bind to tPA and plasminogen. Consequently, these lysine analogues can be used to treat patients with hyperfibrinolysis and can reduce bleeding complications.
Plasmin is not specific for fibrin and degrades a variety of other proteins. Consequently, plasmin is tightly controlled. There are two major inhibitors of fibrinolysis: α2-antiplasmin, and serpin that inactivates plasmin, and plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI-1), which inhibits tPA and uPA. α2-Antiplasmin is cross-linked to fibrin by activator factor XIII. PAI-1 is an intrinsically unstable serpin that can be stabilized by interaction with vitronectin. Because of its instability, the antigen and functional levels of PAI-1 are often quite different and can vary among individuals. PAI-1 is upregulated by lipopolysaccharide, tumor necrosis factor, and other inflammatory cytokines. PAI-1 levels are increased in vascular diseases such as atherosclerosis and in metabolic syndrome, sepsis, and obesity. Increased levels of PAI-1 result in decreased fibrinolytic activity, which increases the risk for thrombosis. PAI-1 is also stored in platelets and is released with platelet activation. Platelet-derived PAI-1 may limit the degradation of platelet-rich thrombi, such as those that trigger acute coronary syndromes.
Overall the fibrinolytic system is dynamic and responsive to local phenomena, such as platelet-derived PAI-1, as well as to systemic alterations like obesity and inflammation. In this sense, the fibrinolytic control mechanisms share many similarities with the control of coagulation, in which similar considerations affect their function.