By binding platelets to exposed collagen at areas of arterial damage, the plasma multimeric glycoprotein von Willebrand factor (VWF) plays a crucial part in initial hemostasis. Recent studies have shown that VWF has additional biological functions. In particular, it may be crucial in controlling inflammatory reactions. However, little is known about the molecular processes through which VWF exerts its immuno-modulatory effects.
A new study by RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has discovered a new role for von Willebrand Factor (VWF). Scientists found that VWF plays a vital role in regulating immune responses at sites of blood vessel injury. This suggests that in addition to its function in blood clotting, the protein has a recently found role in healing damaged blood arteries.
Deficiency in VWF is called ‘von Willebrand Disease.’ People with this condition have an increased risk of serious heavy bleeding. However, those with high levels of protein in their blood are at risk of suffering life-threatening blood clots.
This study demonstrates for the first time that VWF modulates local immune responses and blood clotting at the site of injury. Inflammatory and blood clotting illnesses such as von Willebrand disease, deep vein thrombosis, and myocardial infarction may benefit significantly from discovering this novel biological function for VWF in regulating inflammatory responses.
Lead author of the research, Professor James O’Donnell, Director of the Irish Centre for Vascular Biology at RCSI School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, said: “For more than 50 years, it has been known that von Willebrand factor plays a key role in preventing bleeding by acting as a glue at the site of injury. This research now helps us to understand further the role that VWF plays in linking blood coagulation and inflammation and thereby paves the way for the development of new treatments.”
The research was conducted by RCSI in collaboration with Trinity College Dublin and the National Coagulation Centre in St James’s Hospital, Dublin.