Generation of α-thrombin (FIIa) in response to vascular injury is a key mechanism influencing thrombus formation. Platelet activation by FIIa is mediated by different protease activated receptors (PARs), although the most abundant FIIa binding site on platelets, but not a substrate for proteolysis, is glycoprotein (GP) Ibα in the GPIb-IX-V complex. The functional role of GPIbα in mediating/regulation thrombin functions relative to that of different PARs remains unclear. The goal of these studies was to define how binding to GPIbα can modulate FIIa functions. In mouse platelets we replaced endogenous GPIbα with either its human wild type counterpart (huGPIbα-WT) or with huGPIbα mutated at key residues involved in thrombin binding (D277N, Y276-8-9/F). Because these two mutations resulted in an undistinguishable phenotype, they are designated collectively as huGPIbα-Mut hereon. Mice expressing huGPIbα, WT or Mut, were evaluated in intravital models of arterial thrombosis induced by a ferric chloride-induced carotid artery lesion and venous thromboembolism induced by intravenous α-thrombin injection. Moreover, the blood of huGPIbα WT or Mut mice was also tested in an ex vivo model of thrombus formation upon perfusion over a thrombogenic surface under controlled flow conditions and platelets were evaluated for their responses to FIIa-induced activation. Mice expressing huGPIbα - WT or Mut - have comparable platelet counts and GPIbα surface density. Moreover, huGPIbα-WT platelets bind FIIa similarly than their normal human control counterpart, while huGPIbα-Mut platelets have essentially no detectable FIIa binding. Upon FIIa stimulation, which on mouse platelets is mediated by PAR4, aggregation and Ca2+ transients were significantly enhanced in huGPIbα-Mut as compared to huGPIbα-WT. In contrast, blocking FIIa binding to GPIbα on human platelets essentially abolished FIIa mediated activation, which in human occurs predominantly through PAR1. These results are compatible with the conclusion that, in mice, GPIbα is a competitive inhibitor of FIIa for PAR4-mediated functions. In the presence of metabolically inactive (PGE1 treated) huGPIbα-Mut washed platelets, the clotting time of a purified fibrinogen solution was significantly shorter when triggered by relative high concentration of FIIa (4 nM), but pronouncedly prolonged at a lower FIIa concentration (0.5 nM). Clot visualization showed a much more structured fibrin mesh in the presence of huGPIbα-WT platelets, which was lost with in the presence of huGPIbα-Mut platelets. Mutant mice tested in a model of carotid artery injury exhibited a pronounced prothrombotic phenotype, with a shorter time to occlusion. However they were protected from death induced by I.V. injection of α-thrombin. In ex vivo perfusion studies, the total volume of platelet aggregates formed in huGPIbα-Mut mouse blood exposed to acid-insoluble fibrillar collagen type I was slightly bigger than in huGPIbα-WT mice, but the number of thrombi was increased and their individual size smaller. These huGPIbα-Mut platelets exhibited clear signs of increased activation, as visualized by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Strikingly, fibrin was almost totally absent in the huGPIbα-Mut thrombi. This was in striking contrast with what observed in huGPIbα-WT mice, in which the surface of platelet thrombi with directly and tightly connected with thick fibrin fibers as visualized by scanning electron microscopy. Possibly because of the reduced platelet membrane-fibrin fibril connection in huGPIbα-Mut platelets, these mice were significantly less susceptible to death when injected with an α-thrombin dose that caused 80% mortality plus in huGPIbα-WT mice. Thus, mice whose platelets have defective α-thrombin binding to GPIbα have a prothrombotic phenotype in high shear stress flow arteries and are protected from thromboembolic death in the low shear stress venous circulation. Our findings identify GPIbα as a relevant FIIa activity modulator in hemostasis and thrombosis through distinct and opposite mechanisms affecting platelet activation (The Yin) and fibrin formation (The Yang).


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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