Thrombocytopenia in critical illness predicts a poor clinical outcome. Apart from its role in microvascular thrombus formation, it is widely anticipated that this association is indirect rather than causal. Emerging evidence however indicates that platelets are also immune competent cells. Like traditional innate immune cells, platelets are recruited immediately into injured and inflamed tissue, they release immune mediators, express and shed immunologically active membrane receptors, they interact with other immune cells and they recognize and clear pathogens. We hypothesize that thrombocytopenia per se results in immunodeficiency through loss of platelet-mediated immune functions, and propose that thrombocytopenia induced immunodeficiency in critical illness in part explain the negative predictive value of low or declining platelet count. We propose that rethinking the risks of thrombocytopenia to include not only bleeding but also immunodeficiency and immune dysregulation along with the conduct of studies investigating mechanisms contributing to thrombocytopenia induced poor non-hemorrhagic outcome in critical illness, may be means to improve outcome in these patients through development of new treatment modalities.
Medical Hypotheses, 2011, Vol 77, Issue 5, p. 798-802