Data on endogenous thrombopoietin (TPO) levels and their regulation in myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are sparse. We examined the plasma TPO level of 85 MDS patients by a sensitive enzyme immunoassay and the platelet expression of TPO receptor (TPO-R) protein, which metabolizes endogenous TPO, in 19 MDS patients with an equilibrium binding assay using 125I-TPO. The MDS patients had higher plasma TPO levels (7.0 ± 9.3 fmol/ml) than 52 normal subjects (P<0.0001). Refractory anaemia (RA) patients (n = 39) had higher plasma TPO levels than patients (n = 28) with RA with excess blasts (RAEB) or RAEB in transformation (RAEB-t) (P = 0.0002), irrespective of similar platelet counts in these groups. The plasma TPO level correlated inversely with the platelet count in RA patients (P = 0.0027) but not in RAEB and RAEB- t patients (P = 0.7865). These data suggest that the physiological pathway for TPO production and metabolism is conserved, at least partially, in RA, but deranged in RAEB/RAEB-t. The number of TPO-R per platelet was significantly smaller in 19 MDS patients (17.5 ± 13.3) than in normals (P = 0.0014), but similar between RA patients and patients with RAEB and RAEB-t. Further, the bone marrow megakaryocyte count, determined in 31 MDS patients, was quite similar between RA patients and patients with RAEB or RAEB-t. Thus, in addition to thrombocytopenia, a reduced platelet TPO-R number may contribute to elevated plasma TPO levels in MDS, and a regulatory pathway for circulating TPO other than platelet TPO-R and marrow megakaryocytes, such as blasts expressing TPO-R, may operate in RAEB/RAEB-t.
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