To determine the role of von Willebrand factor (vWF) in adhesion of sickle (SS) erythrocytes in microvascular flow conditions, we have perfused the ex vivo mesocecum vasculature of the rat with desmopressin, an analogue of vasopressin that causes the release of endothelial vWF. Analysis of vWF in the venous effluent of the isolated vasculature showed mainly the presence of extra-large molecular weight forms characteristic of endothelial vWF, which in the presence of desmopressin showed an average increase of 54%. Also, desmopressin induced a significant increase in adhesion of washed oxygenated (oxy) unseparated SS erythrocytes, accompanied by a persistent microvascular obstruction and a pronounced increase in the peripheral resistance (PRU). In contrast, infusion of SS deformable discocytes (SS2) in desmopressin-perfused vasculature resulted in a significant adhesion but not in persistent vasoocclusion, showing that SS2 discocytes alone are not sufficient for microvascular obstruction. Furthermore, SS4 erythrocytes (dense discocytes and irreversibly sickled erythrocytes) caused a persistent microvascular blockage and a significantly higher PRU than SS2 discocytes. However, the increase in PRU for SS4 erythrocytes following desmopressin treatment was 50% less compared with a corresponding increase for SS2 discocytes over the control values, which showed a smaller effect of desmopressin on the hemodynamic behavior of SS4 dense erythrocytes. Incubation of desmopressin-treated vasculature with anti-vWF antibodies resulted in a pronounced decrease in adhesion and significantly improved hemodynamic behavior of SS cells. Also, in untreated vasculature, similarly incubated with anti-vWF antibodies, there was almost complete inhibition of adhesion. Under the described perfusion conditions, antibodies to fibronectin and thrombospondin, as well as incubation of SS erythrocytes with anti-vWF antibodies did not affect adhesion. These results are compatible with a model for SS vasoocclusion in which extra- large vWF-mediated adhesion of deformable SS erythrocytes is the first step followed by an accelerated entrapment of dense SS erythrocytes.

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