Sera from four patients with heparin-associated thrombocytopenia (HAT) were evaluated by a quantitative enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to detect heparin-dependent serum platelet-bindable immunoglobulin (S-PBIg) and by Western blotting and immunoprecipitation to investigate the specificity of the antibody binding. All HAT sera showed mildly increased S-PBIg (mean, 7.8 fg per platelet; normal, less than 6.0 fg per platelet) to intact target platelets in the ELISA, which was markedly increased in the presence of heparin (mean, 20.9 fg per platelet). This increase was 20-fold greater than normal control sera, which showed a mean differential increase of only 0.5 fg per platelet. Immunoglobulin binding specificity to platelet antigens was investigated using sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of platelet lysate with transfer of the platelet fractions onto nitrocellulose strips (Western blotting) and subsequent immunoassay using HAT and normal sera. In the presence of heparin, the four HAT patients demonstrated increased binding of immunoglobulin to platelet antigens of apparent molecular weights of 180, 124, and 82 kd. Radiolabeled heparin when incubated with HAT sera, normal sera, or albumin blanks bound to platelet proteins of the same apparent molecular weights. These observations are consistent with current hypotheses suggesting that HAT antibody is directed to heparin-platelet complexes or, alternatively, that heparin induces conformational change of antigenic sites on the platelet membrane.

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