Towards Understanding ChAdOx1 nCov-19 Vaccine-induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT)
Background: SARS-CoV-2 vaccine ChAdOx1 nCov-19 rarely causes vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) that—like autoimmune heparin-induced thrombocytopenia—is mediated by platelet-activating anti-platelet factor 4 (PF4) antibodies.
Methods: We investigated vaccine, PF4, and VITT patient-derived anti-PF4 antibody interactions using dynamic light scattering, 3D-super-resolution microscopy, and electron microscopy. Mass spectrometry was used to analyze vaccine composition. We investigated the mechanism for early post-vaccine inflammatory reactions as potential co-stimulant for anti-PF4 immune response. Finally, we evaluated VITT antibodies for inducing release of procoagulant DNA-containing neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs), and measured DNase activity in VITT patient serum.
Results: Biophysical analyses showed formation of complexes between PF4 and vaccine constituents, including virus proteins that were recognized by VITT antibodies. EDTA, a vaccine constituent, increased microvascular leakage in mice allowing for circulation of virus- and virus-producing cell culture-derived proteins. Antibodies in normal sera cross-reacted with human proteins in the vaccine and likely contribute to commonly observed acute ChAdOx1 nCov-19 post-vaccination inflammatory reactions. Polyphosphates and DNA enhanced PF4-dependent platelet activation by VITT antibodies. In the presence of platelets, PF4 enhanced VITT antibody-driven procoagulant NETs formation, while DNase activity was reduced in VITT sera, with granulocyte-rich cerebral vein thrombosis observed in a VITT patient.
Conclusions: ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine constituents (i) form antigenic complexes with PF4, (ii) EDTA increases microvascular permeability, and (iii) vaccine components cause acute inflammatory reactions. Antigen formation in a proinflammatory milieu offers an explanation for anti-PF4 antibody production. High-titer anti-PF4 antibodies activate platelets and induce neutrophil activation and NETs formation, fueling the VITT prothrombotic response.