The complement system is an innate immune defense cascade that can cause tissue damage when inappropriately activated. Evidence for complement over activation has been reported in small cohorts of patients with sickle cell disease (SCD). However, the mechanism governing complement activation in SCD has not been elucidated. Here, we observe that the plasma concentration of sC5b-9, a reliable marker for terminal complement activation, is increased at steady state in 61% of untreated SCD patients. We show that greater complement activation in vitro is promoted by SCD erythrocytes compared to normal ones, although no significant differences were observed in the regulatory proteins CD35, CD55, and CD59 in whole blood. Complement activation is positively correlated with the percentage of dense sickle cells (DRBCs). The expression levels of CD35, CD55, and CD59 are reduced in DRBCs, suggesting inefficient regulation when cell density increases. Moreover, the surface expression of the complement regulator CD46 on granulocytes was inversely correlated with the plasma sC5b-9. We also show increased complement deposition in cultured human endothelial cells incubated with SCD serum, which is diminished by the addition of the heme scavenger hemopexin. Treatment of SCD patients with hydroxyurea produces substantial reductions in complement activation, measured by sC5b-9 concentration and upregulation of CD46, as well as decreased complement activation on RBCs in vitro. In conclusion, complement over activation is a common pathogenic event in SCD that is associated with formation of DRBCs and hemolysis. And, it affects red cells, leukocytes and endothelial cells. This complement over activation is partly alleviated by hydroxyurea therapy.
Complement activation in sickle cell disease: Dependence on cell density, hemolysis and modulation by hydroxyurea therapy.
Am J Hematol. 2020;95(5):456-464.
MeSH terms: Adolescent; Adult; Anemia, Sickle Cell; Cell Count; Complement Activation; Female; Hemolysis; Humans; Hydroxyurea; Middle Aged; Young Adult