Activated protein C is a plasma anticoagulant. For activated protein C to function as an anticoagulant, it must form a complex with protein S. Protein S anticoagulant activity is neutralized by formation of a reversible complex with C4b binding protein (C4bBP). C4bBP is an acute- phase plasma protein. When C4bBP levels increase, mass action forces the level of free protein S to decrease, giving rise to an acquired functional protein S deficiency. It has been proposed that these elevated C4bBP levels and the resultant acquired deficiency of protein S that occurs in inflammation could contribute to a hypercoagulable state. An experimental model to test this hypothesis was suggested by our previous studies that demonstrated that inhibition of protein C activation rendered baboons hypercoagulable in response to sublethal Escherichia coli infusion (J Clin Invest 79:918, 1987). We have extended these studies to examine the effect of inhibition of protein S activity with C4bBP in the host (baboon) response to infusion of sublethal concentrations of E coli organisms. Five sets of animals were studied: (1) those challenged with sublethal concentrations of E coli alone (0.4 x 10(10)/kg); (2) those supplemented only with C4bBP (20 mg/kg); (3) those challenged with the same level of E coli but supplemented with C4bBP (20 mg/kg); (4) those challenged with sublethal E coli and supplemented with C4bBP (20 mg/kg) and sufficient protein S (2.3 mg/kg) to fill the protein S binding sites on C4bBP; and (5) those challenged with lethal concentrations of E coli. Sublethal E coli infusion (group 1 animals) caused only an acute-phase response with no consumption of fibrinogen, detectable organ damage, or detectable tumor necrosis factor (TNF) in the plasma. C4bBP infusion (group 2 animals) resulted in no significant physiologic changes, no detectable plasma TNF, and little change in fibrinogen level. The group 3 animals, receiving both sublethal E coli and C4bBP, exhibited rapid consumption of fibrinogen, systemic organ damage, and detectable circulating TNF ultimately leading to death. The overall response of this group was very similar to the response of the group 5 animals receiving an LD100 dose of E coli. The group 4 animals, which were treated exactly as above except that C4bBP was supplemented with a slight excess of protein S, responded essentially like those that received sublethal E coli alone. These studies suggest that the elevation of C4bBP during an inflammatory response can contribute to fibrinogen consumption and vascular damage. This vascular damage may be associated with enhanced elaboration of cytokines like TNF.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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