Both hyperfibrinolysis and fibrinolysis shutdown can occur after severe trauma. The subgroup of trauma patients with fibrinolysis shutdown resistant to tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA)-mediated fibrinolysis have increased mortality. Fibrin polymerization and structure may influence fibrinolysis subgroups in trauma, but fibrin architecture has not been characterized in acutely injured subjects. We hypothesized that fibrin polymerization measured in situ will correlate with fibrinolysis subgroups.
Blood samples were collected from trauma patients and noninjured controls. We selected samples across a range of fibrinolysis phenotypes (shutdown, physiologic, hyperfibrinolysis) and t-PA sensitivities (sensitive, physiologic, resistant) determined by thrombelastography. Plasma clots were created in situ with fluorescent fibrinogen and imaged using confocal microscopy for analysis of clot architecture in three dimensions. For each clot, we quantified the fiber resolvability, a metric of fiber distinctness or clarity, by mapping the variance of fluorescence intensity relative to background fluorescence. We also determined clot porosity by measuring the size and distribution of the gaps between fibrin fibers in three-dimensional space. We compared these measures across fibrinolysis subgroups.
Fiber resolvability was significantly lower in all trauma subgroups compared with controls (n = 35 and 5, respectively; p < 0.05). We observed markedly different patterns of fibrin architecture among trauma patients stratified by fibrinolysis subgroup. Subjects with t-PA–resistant fibrinolysis shutdown exhibited abnormal, densely packed fibrin clots nearly devoid of pores. Individuals with t-PA–hypersensitive fibrinolysis shutdown had highly irregular clots with pores as large as 2500 μm3 to 20,000 μm3, versus 78 μm3 to 1250 μm3 in noninjured controls.
Fiber resolvability was significantly lower in trauma patients than controls, and subgroups of fibrinolysis differ in the porosity of the fibrin clot structure. The dense fibrin network in the t-PA–resistant group may prevent access to plasmin, suggesting a mechanism for thrombotic morbidity after injury.