Deoxygenation of erythrocytes from sickle cell anemia (SCA) patients alters membrane phospholipid distribution with increased exposure of phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and phosphatidylserine (PS) on the outer leaflet. This study investigated whether altered membrane phospholipid exposure on sickle erythrocytes results in complement activation. In vitro deoxygenation of sickle but not normal erythrocytes resulted in complement activation measured by C3 binding. Additional evidence indicated that this activation was the result of the alterations in membrane phospholipids. First, complement was activated by normal erythrocytes after incubation with sodium tetrathionate, which produces similar phospholipid changes. Second, antibody was not required for complement activation by sickle or tetrathionate-treated erythrocytes. Third, the membrane regulatory proteins, decay-accelerating factor (CD55) and the C3b/C4b receptor (CD35), were normal on sickle and tetrathionate-treated erythrocytes. Finally, insertion of PE or PS into normal erythrocytes induced alternative pathway activation. SCA patients in crisis exhibited increased plasma factor Bb levels compared with baseline, and erythrocytes isolated from hospitalized SCA patients had increased levels of bound C3, indicating that alternative pathway activation occurs in vivo. Activation of complement may be a contributing factor in sickle crisis episodes, shortening the life span of erythrocytes and decreasing host defense against infections.
R H Wang, G Phillips Jr, M E Medof, C Mold