To examine whether enhanced in vivo proteolysis of von Willebrand factor (vWF) would account for the reported loss of larger multimers in acute thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura/hemolytic uremic syndrome (TTP/HUS), we studied eight patients with acute TTP/HUS whose blood samples were collected into an anticoagulant containing a cocktail of protease inhibitors to impede in vitro proteolysis. In all, enhanced proteolytic degradation of vWF was expressed as a relative decrease in the intact 225-Kd subunit of vWF and a relative increase in the 176-Kd fragment. However, instead of the loss of larger forms of normal multimers reported by other investigators, the plasma of all but one of our patients (whether they had TTP or HUS) contained a set of larger than normal (supranormal) multimers. Hence, although proteolytic fragmentation of vWF was enhanced during acute TTP/HUS, this phenomenon was not associated with the loss of larger multimers. In the five patients who survived the acute disease and underwent plasma exchange (three with HUS and two with chronic relapsing TTP), subunits and fragments returned to normal values, and supranormal multimers were no longer detected in plasma. In conclusion, even though vWF proteolysis is enhanced in acute TTP/HUS, it does not lead to loss of larger multimers.

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