N-acetylcysteine in preclinical mouse and baboon models of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura

Claudia Tersteeg, Jan Roodt, Walter J. Van Rensburg, Charlotte Dekimpe, Nele Vandeputte, Inge Pareyn, Aline Vandenbulcke, Barbara Plaimauer, Seb Lamprecht, Hans Deckmyn, José A. Lopez, Simon F. De Meyer and Karen Vanhoorelbeke

Key Points

  • Prophylactic administration of NAC was effective in preventing severe TTP signs in mice by reducing the VWF multimer size.

  • In both mice and baboons, NAC was not effective in resolving preexisting TTP signs, as thrombus resolution could not be achieved.


Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) is a microangiopathic disorder diagnosed by thrombocytopenia and hemolytic anemia, associated with a deficiency in von Willebrand factor (VWF)–cleaving protease ADAMTS13. Current treatment is based on plasma infusion for congenital TTP, or plasma exchange, often in combination with immunosuppressive agents, for acquired TTP. These treatment methods are not always effective; therefore, new treatment methods are highly necessary. N-acetylcysteine (NAC), an FDA-approved anti-mucolytic agent, is a possible new treatment strategy for TTP, as it was demonstrated to reduce disulfide bonds in VWF, thereby decreasing VWF multimers size and hence their prothrombotic potential. We investigated whether NAC, without concurrent plasma exchange and immunosuppressive therapy, is effective in preventing and resolving TTP signs, using well-established murine and baboon models for TTP. In mice, prophylactic administration of NAC was effective in preventing severe TTP signs. This in vivo finding was supported by in vitro data demonstrating the VWF multimer–reducing properties of NAC in solution. Nonetheless, in both mice and baboons, administration of NAC was not effective in resolving preexisting TTP signs; thrombocytopenia, hemolytic anemia, and organ damage could not be reversed, as thrombus resolution was not achieved. Failure to improve clinical outcome occurred even though a reduction in VWF multimers was observed, demonstrating that NAC was efficient in reducing disulfide bonds in circulating VWF multimers. In conclusion, prophylactic administration of NAC, without concurrent plasma exchange, was effective in preventing severe TTP signs in mice, but NAC was not effective in resolving preexistent acute TTP signs in mice and baboons.

  • Submitted September 8, 2016.
  • Accepted December 14, 2016.
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