The role of the vascular endothelium in activation of the coagulation system, a fundamental homeostatic mechanism of mammalian biology, is uncertain because there is little evidence indicating that endothelial cells in vivo express tissue factor (TF), the system's triggering mechanism. As a surrogate for vessel wall endothelium, we examined circulating endothelial cells (CEC) from normals and patients with sickle cell anemia, a disease associated with activation of coagulation. We find that Sickle CEC abnormally express TF antigen (expressed as percent CEC that are TF-positive), with 66±13% positive in sickle patients in steady-state, 83±19% positive in sickle patients presenting with acute vasoocclusive episodes, and only 10±13% positive in normal controls. Repeated samplings confirmed this impression that TF expression is greater when sickle patients develop acute vasoocclusive episodes. Sickle CEC are also positive for TF mRNA, with excellent concurrence between antigen and mRNA expression. The TF expressed on the antigen-positive CEC is functional, as demonstrated by a binding assay for Factor VIIa and a chromogenic assay sensitive to generation of Factor Xa. By establishing that endothelial cells in vivo can express TF, these data imply that the vast endothelial surface area does provide an important pathophysiologic trigger for coagulation activation.
- Tissue factor