Highly prothrombotic, platelet activating PF4-dependent anti-PF4 antibodies can occur without preceding heparin or vaccination.
These antibodies are not heparin-dependent, differ from spontaneous HIT and occurred already before 2020.
Platelet-activating anti-platelet factor 4 (PF4)/heparin antibodies and anti-PF4 antibodies cause heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) and vaccine-induced immune thrombocytopenia and thrombosis (VITT), respectively. Diagnostic and treatment considerations differ somewhat between HIT and VITT. We identified patients with thrombocytopenia and thrombosis without proximate heparin exposure or adenovirus-based vaccination who tested strongly positive by PF4/polyanion EIA and negative/weakly-positive by heparin-induced platelet activation (HIPA) test but strongly positive by PF4-induced platelet activation (PIPA) test (i.e., VITT-like profile). We tested these patients by a standard chemiluminescence assay that detects anti-PF4/heparin antibodies found in HIT (HemosIL® AcuStar HIT-IgG(PF4-H)) as well as a novel chemiluminescence assay for anti-PF4 antibodies found in VITT. Representative control sera included an exploratory anti-PF4 antibody-positive but HIPA-negative/weak cohort obtained prior to 2020 (n=188). We identified 9 patients with a clinical-pathological profile of a VITT-like disorder in the absence of proximate heparin or vaccination, with a high frequency of stroke (arterial, n=3; cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, n=4), thrombocytopenia (median platelet count nadir, 49×109/L), and hypercoagulability (greatly elevated D-dimer levels). VITT-like serological features included strong reactivity by PIPA (aggregation <10min in 9/9 sera) and positive testing in the novel anti-PF4 chemiluminescence assay (3/9 also tested positive in the anti-PF4/heparin chemiluminescence assay). Our exploratory cohort identified 13 additional patient sera obtained before 2020 with VITT-like anti-PF4 antibodies. Platelet-activating VITT-like anti-PF4 antibodies should be considered in patients with thrombocytopenia, thrombosis and very high D-dimer levels, even without a proximate exposure to heparin or adenovirus vector vaccines.