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Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria: pathophysiology, natural history and treatment options in the era of biological agents

Authors Risitano AM, Rotoli B

Published 6 June 2008 Volume 2008:2(2) Pages 205—222


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Antonio M Risitano, Bruno Rotoli

Hematology, Department of Biochemistry and Medical Biotechnologies, Federico II University of Naples, Italy

Abstract: Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) is a clonal non-malignant hematological disease characterized by the expansion of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and progeny mature cells, whose surfaces lack all the proteins linked through the glycosyl-phosphatidyl inositol anchor. This defect arises from an acquired somatic mutation in the X-linked phosphatidyl-inositol glycan class A gene, with subsequent clonal expansion of the mutated HSCs as a result of a concomitant, likely immune-mediated, selective pressure. The disease is characterized by complement-mediated chronic intravascular hemolysis, resulting in hemolytic anemia and hemosiderinuria; capricious exacerbations lead to recurrent gross hemoglobinuria. Additional cardinal manifestations of PNH are a variable degree of bone marrow failure and an intrinsic propensity to thromboembolic events. The disease is markedly invalidating, with chronic symptoms requiring supportive therapy − usually including periodical transfusions; possible life-threatening complications may also ensue. The biology of PNH has been progressively elucidated in the past few years, but therapeutic strategies remained unsatisfactory for decades, the only exception being stem cell transplantation, which is restricted to selected patients and retains significant morbidity and mortality. Recently, a biological agent to treat PNH has been developed − the terminal complement inhibitor eculizumab − which has been tested in a number of clinical trials, with exciting results. All the data from worldwide clinical trials confirm that eculizumab radically modifies the symptoms, the biology, and the natural history of PNH, strongly improving the quality of life of PNH patients.

Keywords: paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, GPI-AP, PIG-A, complement, eculizumab

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