Thrombocytopenia in liver diseases is considered to be due to splenic platelet pooling and accelerated destruction. Since thrombopoietin (TPO), a regulator of thrombopoiesis, is produced mainly in the liver, decreased production of TPO may account for thrombocytopenia in liver diseases. To address this issue, we measured serum TPO, using a sensitive sandwich ELISA, in 108 patients with chronic viral hepatitis, which included chronic hepatitis (CH) and liver cirrhosis (LC), and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and in 29 normal controls. TPO mRNA in 78 liver samples was examined by reverse transcription (RT)-PCR. Platelet counts in CH, LC, HCC and controls were 176±15×109/l, 81±8×109/l, 99±7×109/l and 234±9×109/l respectively. Serum TPO levels in CH, LC and HCC were 2.79±0.4 fmol/ml, 1.49±0.2 fmol/ml and 1.97±0.2 fmol/ml, and were higher than those of controls. Serum TPO levels were positively correlated with prothrombin time and serum albumin (P < 0.05, in each case), and negatively correlated with Indocyanine Green test and Pugh score (P < 0.01 and P < 0.05 respectively). However, RT-PCR and immunohistochemistry showed that expression of TPO mRNA and protein were similar in the different liver diseases, suggesting that serum TPO is a reflection of the total mass of functional liver. Platelet counts were negatively correlated with spleen index, but not with serum TPO. These results suggest that thrombocytopenia in liver disease is not directly associated with serum TPO but is associated with hypersplenism.

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