Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) is an acquired hemolytic anemia characterized by intravascular hemolysis, often resulting in the need for red blood cell (RBC) transfusions. PNH RBCs lack two complement regulatory molecules - CD59, a terminal complement inhibitor, and CD55, a C3 convertase inhibitor. Eculizumab, a humanized monoclonal antibody that inhibits terminal complement by binding to C5, effectively controls intravascular hemolysis as determined by a dramatic reduction in lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) to levels in or just above the normal range. Control of intravascular hemolysis in these patients led to a reduction in, or cessation of, RBC transfusions. During eculizumab treatment, a majority of patients demonstrate evidence of residual, low-level hemolysis; LDH levels remain slightly elevated, haptoglobin levels are low or undetectable, and bilirubin levels are above normal. We hypothesized that this low-level residual hemolysis may be due to clearance of PNH RBCs through a C3b-mediated mechanism. Therefore we investigated C3 deposition on RBC in PNH patients before and on eculizumab. A direct antiglobulin test (DAT) using monoclonal anti-C3d was positive in 29 out of 39 PNH patients on eculizumab. Of these 29 DAT-positive patients, who were all receiving transfusions, 25 had DAT testing prior to eculizumab therapy and only one of these was positive. DAT was negative in all of 8 normal volunteers. By two-color flow cytometric analysis with anti-CD59 and anti-C3, the majority of patients on eculizumab demonstrated three distinct RBC populations:

  • CD59+/C3− (normal RBCs);

  • CD59-/C3− (PNH RBCs without C3 coating); and

  • CD59-/C3+ (PNH RBCs coated by C3).

No CD59+/C3+ RBCs were observed. Of 21 DAT positive eculizumab treated patients tested, the median proportion of total RBCs that were C3b positive was 17.6%. 18 of 29 [62%] eculizumab patients with a positive DAT received at least one transfusion during eculizumab therapy compared with 1 of 10 [10%] for DAT negative patients (p=0.01), although even patients who did not become transfusion independent during eculizumab treatment showed a marked reduction in transfusion requirement. The median hemoglobin value for the 29 DAT positive eculizumab patients was 9.8 g/dL compared with 11.3 g/dL in the 10 DAT negative eculizumab patients (p= 0.08). No apparent relationship between LDH and DAT positivity was observed. It is proposed that resolution of intravascular hemolysis in PNH patients on eculizumab results in deposition of C3b on the surface of PNH RBCs which may explain, at least in part, the residual low level hemolysis occurring in some patients. This appears to be a previously undescribed mechanism of RBC clearance in PNH, most likely obscured by the rapidity of intravascular hemolysis in the absence of eculizumab therapy. Despite the low-level residual hemolysis, patients continue to receive significant benefit from eculizumab treatment.

Disclosures: RPR is an employee of Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; PH and SJR serve as consultants to Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; RPR has equity ownership in Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; PH receives grant support from Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; AH, SJR, LL and PH receive lecture fees from Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; AH, BR and LL have served on an Advisory Committee for Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

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