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Grand Rounds
December 10, 2008

Evolution of Novel Small-Molecule Therapeutics Targeting Sickle Cell Vasculopathy

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Critical Care Medicine Department, Clinical Center, and Pulmonary and Vascular Medicine Branch, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland (Dr Kato); and Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the Hemostasis and Vascular Biology Research Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Dr Gladwin).

JAMA. 2008;300(22):2638-2646. doi:10.1001/jama.2008.598
Abstract

A 34-year-old African American woman with sickle cell disease and history of relatively severe hemolysis, chronic leg ulcers, and mild pulmonary hypertension presented with a new ischemic stroke. Recent research has suggested a syndrome of hemolysis-associated vasculopathy in patients with sickle cell disease, which features severe hemolytic anemia and leads to scavenging of nitric oxide and its biochemical precursor L-arginine. This diminished bioavailability of nitric oxide promotes a hemolysis-vascular dysfunction syndrome, which includes pulmonary hypertension, cutaneous leg ulceration, priapism, and ischemic stroke. Additional correlates of this vasculopathy include activation of endothelial cell adhesion molecules, platelets, and the vascular protectant hemeoxygenase-1. Some known risk factors for atherosclerosis are also associated with sickle cell vasculopathy, including low levels of apolipoprotein AI and high levels of asymmetric dimethylarginine, an endogenous inhibitor of nitric oxide synthase. Identification of dysregulated vascular biology pathways in sickle vasculopathy has provided a focus for new clinical trials for therapeutic intervention, including inhaled nitric oxide, sodium nitrite, L-arginine, phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors, niacin, inhaled carbon monoxide, and endothelin receptor antagonists. This article reviews the pathophysiology of sickle vasculopathy and the results of preliminary clinical trials of novel small-molecule therapeutics directed at abnormal vascular biology in patients with sickle cell disease.

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