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A Journal on Anesthesiology, Resuscitation, Analgesia and Intensive Care

Official Journal of the Italian Society of Anesthesiology, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care
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Minerva Anestesiologica 2004 May;70(5):339-50


language: Italian

Protein C and coagulation in sepsis

D’Angelo A. 1, Della Valle P. 1, Giudici D. 2, Viganò D’Angelo S. 1

1 Servizio di Coagulazione ed Unità Ricerca Trombosi, IRCCS H S. Raffaele, Milano, Italia 2 Dipartimento di Rianimazione e Terapia Intensiva, IRCCS H S. Raffaele, Milano, Italia


The last few years have clarified the tight link between inflammation and coagulation. In addition to the identification of new regulatory mechanisms of the coagulation system and of an explosive number of mediators of inflammation, it is now clear that the existence of a positive feed-back between inflammation and coagulation leads to reciprocal activation of both pathways. Plasma levels of acute phase proteins involved in coagulation and fibrinolysis are elevated during inflammation, while natural anticoagulant mechanisms are depressed. Pro-inflammatory cytokines “activate” cell membranes exposed to flowing blood (endothelium, platelets, monocytes, neutrophils) which from physiologically inert or anticoagulant become procoagulant. Increased tissue factor expression results in increased thrombin formation within the microcirculation. Thrombin is central to fibrin deposition but it also plays a key role in cell-mediated mechanisms involving inflammation, cell proliferation and activation of the natural anticoagulant protein C. Depression of natural anticoagulant mechanisms, occurring in severe sepsis, results in uncontrolled thrombin formation, with pro-inflammatory activity prevailing, and the feed-back loop of inflammation and coagulation ultimately leading to multi-organ failure. However, both in the clinical setting and in animal experiments, heparin or direct anticoagulants have shown no effect on survival even if blocking fibrin deposition. Organ failure is only partially due to the thrombotic occlusion of the microcirculation, while other mechanisms of endothelial damage are probably more relevant in the development of ischemia. The endothelium is central to the maintenance of the natural anticoagulant mechanisms (TFPI, antithrombin, protein C). The protein C system, in addition to dumping thrombin formation, specifically modulates inflammation by cell signaling. This system is markedly depressed in severe sepsis. The infusion of activated protein C, or restoring normal levels of protein C within the circulation - depending on the individual bleeding risk – are powerful tools to treat the endothelitis responsible for the clinical sequelae of severe sepsis.

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