Protamine Enhances Fibrinolysis by Decreasing Clot Strength: Role of Tissue Factor-Initiated Thrombin Generation

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Background: Excessive protamine administration to neutralize heparin after cardiopulmonary bypass has been implicated as a cause of postoperative hemorrhage. Protamine directly inhibits thrombin and tissue factor (TF)-mediated activation of factor VII. However, the half-life of protamine is only 4.5 minutes; thus the purpose of this study was to determine if protamine could enhance fibrinolysis, explaining the delayed, protamine-associated hemorrhage observed in the postoperative period. Methods: Human plasma containing 0, 6.25, 12.5, or 25 μg/mL of protamine (n = 6 per condition) was exposed to 0.01% tissue factor and tissue-type plasminogen activator (tPA, 100 U/mL) for 30 minutes, with clot growth and disintegration measured by Thromboelastograph (Haemoscope Corp, Skokie, IL). The TF was increased to 0.1% in additional experiments with plasma containing protamine (25 μg/mL) and tPA. Results: Protamine significantly (p < 0.05) delayed the time to clot initiation, decreased the speed of clot propagation, and diminished clot strength in a concentration-dependent fashion. The onset of fibrinolysis was significantly (p < 0.05) increased only in samples with 25 μg/mL of protamine, and the rate of clot lysis was not different among the conditions. The clot duration time (from initiation to disintegration) was significantly (p < 0.05) decreased in a concentration-dependent manner by protamine. Increased TF concentration (0.1%) significantly improved clot growth kinetics and prolonged clot duration in samples with 25 μg/mL of protamine compared with samples activated with 0.01% TF. Conclusions: Protamine enhanced fibrinolysis by decreasing clot strength by diminishing TF-initiated thrombin generation. Additional, clinical investigation is warranted to mechanistically implicate protamine-mediated enhancement of fibrinolysis to delayed bleeding after cardiopulmonary bypass.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1720-1727
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of Thoracic Surgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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