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The effects of heparinization and the reversal of heparin activity on platelet function after cardiopulmonary bypass have not been well defined. Flow cytometry has become a convenient and powerful technique for characterizing platelets. We examined the expression of a secretion marker (P-selectin) and an aggregation marker (activated fibrinogen receptor GP IIb-IIIa) on normal platelets in response to heparin, heparinase 1, and protamine in vitro using whole blood flow cytometry. Unfractionated heparin increased adenosine diphosphate-induced expression of P-selectin and GP IIb-IIIa in a dose-dependent manner. Heparinase 1 alone decreased both markers of platelet activation. Protamine alone increased P-selectin expression but had no effect on GP IIb-IIIa expression. Heparinase 1 antagonized the stimulatory effect of heparin on both markers. In contrast, protamine antagonized the effect of heparin on GP IIb-IIIa expression but potentiated the effect of heparin on P-selectin expression. These in vitro observations suggest that 1) both heparin and its reversal agents affect platelet secretion and aggregation, and 2) heparinase 1 reverses heparin-induced platelet preactivation more effectively than protamine.This experimental in vitro study demonstrates that heparin and its reversal agents affect platelet secretion and aggregation.