PF4 bound to VWF strings form antigenic complexes that are recognized by HIT antibodies.
PF4-VWF-HIT antibody complexes enhance platelet adhesion via platelet FcγRIIA and glycoprotein Ib-IX receptors.
Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) is a prothrombotic disorder mediated by complexes between platelet factor 4 (PF4) and heparin or other polyanions, but the risk of thrombosis extends beyond exposure to heparin implicating other PF4 partners. We recently reported that peri-thrombus endothelium is targeted by HIT antibodies, but the binding site(s) has not been identified. We now show that PF4 binds at multiple discrete sites along the surface of extended strings of von Willebrand factor (VWF) released from the endothelium following photochemical injury in an endothelialized microfluidic system under flow. The HIT-like monoclonal antibody KKO and HIT patient antibodies recognize PF4-VWF complexes, promoting platelet adhesion and enlargement of thrombi within the microfluidic channels. Platelet adhesion to the PF4-VWF-HIT antibody complexes is inhibited by antibodies that block FcγRIIA or the glycoprotein Ib-IX complex on platelets. Disruption of PF4-VWF-HIT antibody complexes by drugs that prevent or block VWF oligomerization attenuate thrombus formation in a murine model of HIT. Together, these studies demonstrate assembly of HIT immune complexes along VWF strings released by injured endothelium that might propagate the risk of thrombosis in HIT. Disruption of PF4-VWF complex formation may provide a new therapeutic approach to HIT.