Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura


Bernhard Lämmle, Department of Hematology and Central Hematology Laboratory, Inselspital, University Hospital, CH 3010 Bern, Switzerland.
Tel.: 41-31-632 33 02; e-mail:


Summary.  This overview summarizes the history of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) from its initial recognition in 1924 as a most often fatal disease to the discovery in 1997 of ADAMTS-13 deficiency as a major risk factor for acute disease manifestation. The cloning of the metalloprotease, ADAMTS-13, an essential regulator of the extremely adhesive unusually large von Willebrand factor (VWF) multimers secreted by endothelial cells, as well as ADAMTS-13 structure and function are reviewed. The complex, initially devised assays for ADAMTS-13 activity and the possible limitations of static in vitro assays are described. A new, simple assay using a recombinant 73-amino acid VWF peptide as substrate will hopefully be useful. Hereditary TTP caused by homozygous or double heterozygous ADAMTS-13 mutations and the nature of the mutations so far identified are discussed. Recognition of this condition by clinicians is of utmost importance, because it can be easily treated and – if untreated – frequently results in death. Acquired TTP is often but not always associated with severe, autoantibody-mediated ADAMTS-13 deficiency. The pathogenesis of cases without severe deficiency of the VWF-cleaving protease remains unknown, affected patients cannot be distinguished clinically from those with severely decreased ADAMTS-13 activity. Survivors of acute TTP, especially those with autoantibody-induced ADAMTS-13 deficiency, are at a high risk for relapse, as are patients with hereditary TTP. Patients with thrombotic microangiopathies (TMA) associated with hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, neo-plasia and several drugs, usually have normal or only moderately reduced ADAMTS-13 activity, with the exception of ticlopidine-induced TMA. Diarrhea-positive-hemolytic uremic syndrome (D+ HUS), mainly occurring in children is due to enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli infection, and cases with atypical, D− HUS may be associated with factor H abnormalities. Treatment of acquired idiopathic TTP involves plasma exchange with fresh frozen plasma (FFP), and probably immunosuppression with corticosteroids is indicated. We believe that, at present, patients without severe acquired ADAMTS-13 deficiency should be treated with plasma exchange as well, until better strategies become available. Constitutional TTP can be treated by simple FFP infusion that rapidly reverses acute disease and – given prophylactically every 2–3 weeks – prevents relapses. There remains a large research agenda to improve diagnosis of TMA, gain further insight into the pathophysiology of the various TMA and to improve and possibly tailor the management of affected patients.