Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) is a rare, acquired disorder characterized by chronic intravascular hemolysis as the primary clinical manifestation and morbidities that include anemia, thrombosis, renal impairment, pulmonary hypertension, and bone marrow failure. The prevalence of the PNH clone (from <1-100% PNH granulocytes) is approximately 16 per million, and careful monitoring is required. The average age of onset of the clinical disease is the early 30s, although it can present at all ages. PNH is caused by the acquisition of a somatic mutation of the gene phosphatidylinositol glycan anchor (PIG-A) in a multipotent hematopoietic stem cell (HSC), with clonal expansion of the mutated HSC. The mutation causes a deficiency in the synthesis of glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI). In cells derived from normal HSCs, the complement regulatory proteins CD55 and CD59 are anchored to the hematopoietic cell membrane surface via GPI, protecting the cells from complement-mediated lysis. However, in patients with PNH, these 2 proteins, along with numerous other GPI-linked proteins, are absent from the cell surface of red cells, granulocytes, monocytes, and platelets, resulting in complement-mediated intravascular hemolysis and other complications. Lysis of red blood cells is the most obvious manifestation, but as other cell lineages are also affected, this complement-mediated attack contributes to additional complications, such as thrombosis. Eculizumab, a humanized monoclonal antibody against the C5 complement protein, is the only effective drug therapy for PNH patients. The antibody prevents cleavage of the C5 protein by C5 convertase, in turn preventing generation of C5b-9 and release of C5a, thereby protecting from hemolysis of cells lacking the CD59 surface protein and other complications associated with complement activation. Drs. Ilene C. Weitz, Anita Hill, and Jeff Szer discuss 3 recent cases of patients with PNH.
- paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH)