Numerous investigators have postulated that a hypercoagulable state exists in humans for a period of time before the development of thrombotic episodes. A clear biochemical definition of the prethrombotic state, however, has proved elusive due in part to the lack of reliable techniques for monitoring pertinent changes in blood coagulability. Based on recent advances in our knowledge of the biochemistry of the coagulation system, a series of highly sensitive and specific immunochemical tools has been developed that can quantitate the activities of various steps of the hemostatic mechanism in vivo at the subnanomolar level. We have established assays for F1+2 and the protein C activation peptide, which measure the cleavage of the prothrombin molecule by factor Xa and the scission of protein C by the thrombin-thrombomodulin complex, respectively. Nossel and coworkers had previously constructed similar assays for fibrinopeptide A (FPA) and fragment B beta 1–42, which monitor the cleavage of fibrinogen by thrombin and the proteolysis of fibrin I by plasmin, respectively. Substantial elevations in the levels of these markers have been found in patients with disseminated intravascular coagulation and many subjects with acute deep venous thrombosis. The F1+2 and FPA assays have been used to demonstrate that significant increments in factor Xa activity but not thrombin activity regularly occur in the blood of nonanticoagulated individuals with congenital deficiencies of antithrombin or protein C. These two disorders are known to be correlated with the subsequent development of thrombosis. Patients with protein C deficiency have also been noted to have significantly reduced plasma levels of protein C activation peptide. By using the immunoassays for FPA and B beta 1–42 in studies of postoperative patients, it has been shown that an imbalance between the procoagulant action of thrombin and the anticoagulant effect of plasmin on fibrin I polymer may induce an acquired thrombotic diathesis. Finally, we have recently demonstrated that prothrombin activation as measured by the F1+2 assay is suppressed by oral anticoagulants in the blood of patients with thrombotic diatheses. These investigations suggest that these assay techniques can be used to improve our understanding of the hypercoagulable state as well as to develop more effective treatment strategies for the prevention of thromboembolic events.

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