Anti-platelet factor 4/heparin antibodies in patients with impaired graft function after liver transplantation


  • Manuscript handled by: C. Gachet
  • Final decision: F. R. Rosendaal, 6 March 2014



Heparin, the standard perioperative anticoagulant for the prevention of graft vessel thrombosis in patients undergoing liver transplantation (LT), binds to the chemokine platelet factor 4 (PF4). Antibodies that are formed against the resulting PF4/heparin complexes can induce heparin-induced thrombocytopenia. LT is a clinical situation that allows the study of T-cell dependency of immune responses because T-cell function is largely suppressed pharmacologically in these patients to prevent graft rejection.


To investigate the immune response against PF4/heparin complexes in patients undergoing LT.

Patients and Methods

In this prospective cohort study, 38 consecutive patients undergoing LT were systematically screened for anti-PF4/heparin antibodies (enzyme immunoassay and heparin-induced platelet aggregation assay), platelet count, liver function, and engraftment.


At baseline, 5 (13%) of 38 patients tested positive for anti-PF4/heparin IgG (non-platelet-activating) antibodies. By day 20, an additional 5 (15%) of 33 patients seroconverted for immunoglobulin G (two platelet-activating) antibodies. No patient developed clinical heparin-induced thrombocytopenia. Two of six patients with graft function failure had anti-PF4/heparin IgG antibodies at the time of graft function failure. Graft liver biopsy samples from these patients showed thrombotic occlusions of the microcirculation.


Anti-PF4/heparin IgG antibodies are generated despite strong pharmacologic suppression of T cells, indicating that T cells likely have a limited role in the immune response to PF4/heparin complexes in humans.