The pathogenesis of immune thrombocytopenia (ITP) is multifactorial, with both cellular and humoural immune dysfunction. The role of NK cells has not been well defined in ITP but in other diseases NK cells have a role in rejecting “foreign” eg transplanted organ or tumor, and also acting against self as occurs in autoimmunity. NK cell activity is orchestrated by the balance of activating vs. inhibitory signalling, in particular via the killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptor (KIR) family of receptors. Significant variation exists in KIR allelic subtype and copy number for the KIR between individuals, and associations have been made with certain haplotypes and a number of autoimmune disorders including rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and diabetes. Previous reports have demonstrated a reduction in natural killer (NK) cell number and function in ITP and expression of inhibitory KIR genes is increased in patients in remission vs. active ITP.
To explore whether a particular KIR haplotype might predispose to ITP, and also affect response to ITP treatment, we performed KIR genotyping using the Invitrogen SSP kit on 92 patients attending a haematology centre in New York and compared the results to data from 213 controls taken from the USA Eastern Database. Genomic DNA was typed for the inhibitory KIR genes KIR2DL1, KIR2DL2, KIR2DL5A (alleles 001 and 002), KIR2DL5B (alleles 002-004, 06, and 007), KIR3DL1, KIR3DL3; the activating KIR genes KIR2DS1, KIR2DS2, KIR2DS3, KIR2DS4, KIR2DS5, KIR3DS1; the framework genes KIR2DL3, KIR2DL4, KIR3DL2, KIR3DP1; and the pseudogene KIR2DP1. The patients with ITP had been or were receiving treatment with IVIG (n=64), corticosteroids (72) and rituximab (37). Bleeding symptoms were recorded. Response to treatment was defined as complete - platelet count increase to > 100 x 109/mL; partial - platelet count increase to > 50 x 109/mL; or no response. For the purpose of analysis, PRs and CRs were combined. A comprehensive database allowed a logistic regression, assessing both responses to treatments, platelet counts, neutrophil counts, CRP, lymphocyte subsets and bleeding symptoms.
The expression of two inhibitory KIR genes, 2DL1 and 3DL1, was significantly lower in the patients with ITP as compared to controls (87% 2DL1 and 87% 3DL1 compared to 99% in controls - P < 0.02). Response to rituximab was strongly related to KIR haplotype expression. 2DL1 expression was higher among nonresponders to Rituximab (100% of non responders compared to 82% of responders), whereas 2DL3 expression was significantly lower (79% compared to 90%) (P < 0.05, Figure 1B). Separately, patients with the 2DS3 allele, an activatory KIR, were 5.5 times more likely to have experienced significant bleeding.
Although these findings are preliminary and require further investigation, these data suggest that increased cytotoxic autoimmunity due to reduced KIR inhibition may be associated with the development of ITP and possibly contribute importantly to the pathogenesis. Anti-CD20 targeting therapy directed at B cells was strongly influenced by 2 different KIRs (1 upregulated and one down-regulated) emphasizing the potential role of NK cells in elimination of tissue-based (nodal) B cells. Finally a more pronounced clinical phenotype with a markedly higher incidence of severe bleeding associated with an increased activatory KIR expression demonstrates the role of NK cells in bleeding presumably via their effects on either endothelial cells or platelet function.
These exciting findings will be pursued for confirmation in a larger number of patients.
Bussel:Amgen: Family owns stock Other, Membership on an entity’s Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Cangene: Research Funding; Genzyme: Research Funding; GlaxoSmithKline: Family owns stock, Family owns stock Other, Membership on an entity’s Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; IgG of America: Research Funding; Immunomedics: Research Funding; Ligand: Membership on an entity’s Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Eisai: Membership on an entity’s Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Shionogi: Membership on an entity’s Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Sysmex: Research Funding; Symphogen: Membership on an entity’s Board of Directors or advisory committees.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.