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Keywords:

  • aplastic anaemia;
  • thrombopoietin

In an attempt to evaluate the role of thrombopoietin (TPO) in the pathobiology of aplastic anaemia (AA), we have examined TPO levels in sera from 54 AA patients and 119 healthy controls. A total of 92 samples were collected from AA patients: 43 samples were harvested at diagnosis, 23 samples in the cytopenic period after treatment, and 26 samples when patients were in partial (n = 10) or complete remission (n = 16) following immunosuppressive treatment. TPO serum levels were assessed by a sandwich-antibody ELISA that utilized a polyclonal rabbit antiserum for both capture and signal. Serum samples from normal donors revealed a mean TPO level of 95.3 ± 54.0 pg/ml (standard deviation). Mean TPO levels in AA sera collected at diagnosis and before onset of treatment were 2728 ± 1074 pg/ml (P < 0.001 compared to normal controls; mean platelet count at that time: 27 × 109/l). TPO serum levels of AA patients in partial or complete remission after immunosuppressive treatment were significantly lower than TPO levels at diagnosis (P < 0.001). However, despite normal platelet counts (mean 167 × 109/l), TPO levels remained significantly elevated in complete remission (mean TPO 1009 ± 590 pg/ml, P < 0.001 compared to normal controls). There was a significant inverse correlation between serum TPO levels and platelet counts in AA patients who were not transfused for at least 2 weeks prior to sample collection (coefficient of correlation (r) = −0.70, P < 0.0001).

In summary, TPO levels were highly elevated in sera of patients with AA. Thus there is no evidence to suggest an impaired TPO response contributing to thrombocytopenia in AA. Thrombopoietin did not return to normal levels in remission, indicating a persisting haemopoietic defect in remission of AA. We hypothesize that elevated levels of TPO may be required to maintain normal or near normal platelet counts in remission of AA.