It has been shown that the clinical course of sickle cell (SS) patients can be ameliorated by administration of hydroxyurea (HU). Induction of hemoglobin F (HbF) is thought to be the mechanism responsible for clinical improvement in some patients. However, HU has a variable effect on HbF production and there exists no good correlation between the extent of HbF increase and clinical response. On the other hand, the degree of adherence of SS to vascular endothelium and neutrophil counts correlate well with clinical severity. Being a cytotoxic drug, used in myeloproliferative diseases, HU may alter proliferation among various cell lines. Moreover, HU has been reported to reduce red blood cell (RBC) adhesion receptor expression in young SS individuals and induces changes in endothelial cells in vitro. It should be conceived that in addition to its effects on HbF production, HU may change the clinical symptoms of SS patients by affecting the degree of adherence of different blood cells, by influencing the activity of endothelium as well as the activity of white blood cells (WBC) and platelets. To analyze whether several of the determinants of adhesion are modulated by HU treatment we studied the levels of endothelial activity (soluble vascular adhesion molecule-1, (sVCAM-1), interleukin-8 (IL-8), fibronectin, neutrophil activity (sL-selectin, sIL-6 receptor-α, myeloperoxidase) and platelet activity (von Willebrand factor) in relation to clinical symptoms, hematological data and HbF levels in 8 SS patients before and during 5 months of HU therapy. Steady state sVCAM-1 levels are increased compared to normal controls and a significant decrease is noted during HU treatment, suggesting a decrease in the interactions between RBC and vascular endothelium. The IL-8 levels are comparable to those in normal controls and remain unaffected by HU therapy. Intercurrent infection and crises reveal striking increases in IL-8 which are accompanied by leukocytosis, but otherwise the IL-8 levels do not correlate with hematological data. HU has no demonstrable effect on fibronectin or soluble neutrophil adhesion molecules, but the levels of myeloperoxidase decrease significantly while WBC counts do not, implying a reduction in neutrophil activity which may help attenuate the propagation phase of a vasoocclusive crisis.

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