Role of inflammation and platelet activation in the adverse cardiovascular outcomes of patients undergoing surgery for critical limb ischaemia
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Increased platelet activation and inflammation play a key role in atherothrombosis. Patients with peripheral arterial disease are at increased risk of adverse cardiovascular events, particularly at the time of surgery. We postulated that the increase in peri-operative cardiovascular events is mediated by increased platelet activation and inflammation. We hypothesized that peri-operative dual anti-platelet therapy would improve biomarkers of atherothrombosis without causing unacceptable bleeding in patients undergoing surgery for critical limb ischaemia (CLI). Prior to interventional study, I validated a sensitive flow cytometric technique for the reproducible assessment of in vivo platelet activation in patients with peripheral arterial disease. Thirty patients with stable claudication, attended on two occasions to permit within-day and between-day comparisons. A variety of platelet activation markers were compared to the gold standard of platelet–monocyte aggregation. Platelet-monocyte aggregation demonstrated comparable within-day (mean difference ± co-efficient of reproducibility; 0.9±15.4%) and between-day reproducibility (2.0±12.4%). Plateletmonocyte aggregates correlated well with other platelet activation markers (P selectin r=0.30; Platelet CD40L r=0.41; Platelet microparticles r=0.27; P≤0.026) and monocyte activation markers (monocyte CD40 r=0.27;monocyte CD11b r=0.47; P≤0.026). In a cross sectional study, I demonstrated that resting in vivo platelet activation and inflammation was increased in patients with CLI in comparison to healthy controls, patients with stable claudication and those undergoing treatment for acute coronary syndromes. In addition, platelet activation and inflammation throughout the peri-operative period was markedly increased in CLI patients compared with non-vascular patients undergoing arthroplasty, and exceeded the rise attributable to the stress of surgery itself. In a prospective double-blind randomised controlled trial, 108 patients undergoing infra-inguinal revascularisation or amputation for CLI were maintained on aspirin (75 mg daily) and randomised to clopidogrel (600 mg prior to surgery, and 75 mg daily for 3 days; n=50) or matched placebo (n=58). Peri-operative in vivo platelet activation and inflammation, cardiac-Troponin I (c-TnI) release and bleeding outcomes were recorded. Clopidogrel reduced markers of platelet activation and inflammation before surgery and throughout the post-operative period. Overall, there were 18 troponin-positive events (16.7%), with half of the troponin rises (9) occurring prior to surgery. Patients with postoperative elevations in c-Tn I had significantly greater levels of pre-operative platelet-monocyte aggregation, monocyte CD40, IL-6 and hsCRP. However, despite reducing platelet and inflammatory markers, clopidogrel did not have a direct effect on peri-operative c-Tn I. There was no increase in major life-threatening or minor bleeding, although blood transfusions and wound haematomas were significantly increased. Using sensitive and validated methodologies, I have provided a detailed examination of in vivo platelet activation and inflammation in high-risk vascular surgical patients. This approach has provided the first objective assessment of the risks and benefits of intensive peri-operative anti-platelet therapy in this patient group. Dual anti-platelet therapy reduced biomarkers of atherothrombosis without causing unacceptable bleeding. However, large-scale clinical trials would be required to confirm whether these reductions translate into improvements in clinical outcome.