The spleen plays a central role in the pathogenesis of chronic idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP); it produces massive quantities of antiplatelet antibodies, leading to accelerated phagocytosis of platelets. Lymphoid hyperplasia typically occurs in the spleen, characterized by large numbers of lymphatic nodules with active germinal centers. Whether changes in splenic microcirculatory pathways also occur is not known. We have studied this question by scanning electron microscopy of corrosion casts, comparing spleens removed from patients with ITP with normal spleens obtained from organ transplant donors. The casts demonstrate two major changes in microcirculatory pathways in ITP. Firstly, a striking proliferation of arterioles and capillaries is found in the white pulp and marginal zone (MZ), seen as extensive vascularization in 92.3% of lymphatic nodules (n = 191) versus 0.6% (n = 224) in normal spleens. Secondly, the marginal sinus, a series of flattened, anastomosing vascular spaces between the white pulp and MZ, is absent in 89.4% of lymphatic nodules versus 4.9% in normal spleens. The cause of these microcirculatory changes, which may not be exclusive to ITP, is presently unknown. Absence of the marginal sinus may affect distribution of blood flow through the MZ such that platelets spend increased amounts of time in the proximity of macrophages. In the presence of antiplatelet antibodies found in ITP spleens, this delayed transit would lead to greatly increased platelet destruction.

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