Abstract

Human platelets exhibit a circulating lifespan of ~10 days, mouse platelets ~5 days. This finite existence is circumscribed by members of the Bcl-2 family of proteins, which control the intrinsic apoptosis pathway. Pro-survival Bcl-xL is the critical regulator of platelet lifespan, functioning to keep pro-death Bak and Bax in check, thereby maintaining platelet viability. After 5–10 days in the circulation, platelets not consumed in hemostatic processes initiate a Bak and Bax-dependent cell death program and clearance from the bloodstream. Mutations in Bcl-xL reduce platelet lifespan in a dose-dependent fashion, while deletion of Bak and Bax extend it. Studies with the BH3 mimetic compound ABT-737, which inhibits pro-survival Bcl-xL, have shown that platelets induced to undergo cell death in vitro exhibit many of the hallmarks of apoptosis in nucleated cells, including mitochondrial damage, caspase activation and externalization of membrane phosphatidylserine (PS). Whether any of these features occur during physiological platelet clearance remains unclear. Certainly, mitochondrial damage can reduce the recovery of transfused platelets, but whether PS – which is known to promote the pro-coagulant activity of agonist-activated platelets – also acts as a clearance signal for dying platelets in vivo is yet to be established. Conversely, Bak and Bax may play a role in mediating PS exposure triggered by activation. Supporting the idea that there may be crosstalk between classical platelet signaling pathways and the intrinsic apoptosis pathway is recent evidence that platelet agonists can also activate caspases. Intriguingly, elements of the intrinsic pathway may also contribute to the generation of platelets by megakaryocytes. Several groups have demonstrated that megakaryocytes contain activated caspases and that their inhibition can block platelet shedding by cultured cells. Preliminary evidence we have generated suggests that Bcl-2 family proteins may be required for platelet production in vivo. Thus, it appears that there is much to be understood about the role of the intrinsic apoptosis pathway in the regulation of platelet biogenesis, function, and death.

Disclosures: Huang:Murigen Therapeutics: Honoraria, Membership on an entity’s Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding. Kile:MuriGen Therapeutics: Consultancy, Equity Ownership, Membership on an entity’s Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding.

Author notes

Corresponding author