Trousseau's syndrome: multiple definitions and multiple mechanisms

Ajit Varki

Article Figures & Data


  • Figure 1

    Multiple mechanisms in Trousseau's syndrome. There are multiple overlapping and interacting mechanisms that can explain the increased incidence of thrombosis in patients with malignancies. In Trousseau's syndrome, hypercoagulability manifests even before the diagnosis of the tumor and is probably the result of products arising from the tumor itself. The most common malignancies associated with this syndrome are carcinomas (cancers of epithelial origin) that are often, but not always, mucin producing. This cartoon depicts a mucin-producing carcinoma arising in a hollow organ, which secretes mucins with altered glycans inappropriately into the bloodstream. Although the bulk of these mucins are probably rapidly cleared by the liver, a small fraction are resistant to clearance and can interact with P- and L-selectins, inducing the formation of platelet-rich microthrombi by multiple pathways. Exposure of tissue factor (TF)–rich tumor cell surfaces to the bloodstream or the release of TF-rich microvesicles by the tumor is presumed to induce fibrin formation and platelet aggregation by thrombin production. There is some evidence for a cysteine proteinase secreted by carcinoma cells that can directly activate factor X to generate thrombin. Although interactions of platelet and endothelial P-selectin with P-selectin glycoprotein ligand-1 (PSGL-1) on monocytes may further contribute to these reactions, the exact mechanism by which mucins eventually generate thrombin and fibrin production is unknown. Hypoxic conditions within the tumor, the expression of the MET oncogene, or both might also enhance production of procoagulant factors such as TF and plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1), and tumor-derived inflammatory cytokines may serve to activate endothelial and platelet adhesion molecules. Various combinations of these mechanisms can help explain the unusual, migratory, and exaggerated thrombotic phenomena of Trousseau's syndrome. As indicated in the figure, heparin has potential salutary effects on many of the relevant processes. This may explain why heparin preparations of various kinds are the preferred agent for the management of Trousseau's syndrome.