Membrane plasma separation uses artificial polymers which might interact with blood components during treatment. In 7 patients treated for familial hypercholesterolemia with heparin-induced extracorporeal LDL precipitation (HELP), we studied 4 different synthetic plasma separation materials. The effect of membranes made from polyethylene, polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), polypropylene and polysulfone on complement activation (C3a), granulocyte elastase release and granulocyte count were measured repeatedly during the treatment. Polyethylene and PMMA induced high levels of plasma elastase and marked granulocytopenia after 60 min of treatment, much later than during hemodialysis, where granulocyte nadir is known to occur already after 15 min. Polysulfone and polypropylene did not change granulocyte counts and caused only modest levels of elastase during plasmapheresis. Complement activation was present in all 4 membranes but with polyethylene, very high concentrations of C3a were detected. These data indicate that irritation of immune system components as granulocytes or the complement system do occur during plasmapheresis to different degrees depending on the membrane material used. Reinfusion of plasma after processing increases the amount of plasmatic activation products infused into the patient. This was the case, although the plasma processing procedure itself did not add activation products to the plasma. Activation patterns during plasma separation differ from those known to occur during hemodialysis despite use of the same polymer. Immunocompromized patients treated with plasmapheresis may react differently than these otherwise healthy subjects with familial hypercholesterolemia.

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