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Background. Thrombocytopenia is a frequent and potentially serious complication in liver transplant recipients. The role of endogenous thrombopoietin level in posttransplant thrombocytopenia, has not been fully defined in liver transplant recipients. Additionally, there is accumulating evidence to suggest that platelets play a important role in antimicrobial host defense.

Methods. There were 50 consecutive liver transplant recipients studied. Variables predictive of thrombocytopenia, its impact on infectious morbidity and outcome, and serial thrombopoietin (TPO) serum concentration were assessed.

Results. The median pretransplant platelet count was 67x103/cmm. After the liver transplantation, the median nadir platelet count was 33x103/cmm and was reached a mean of 6 days after the transplant. A lower pretransplant platelet count (r= .068, P =.0001), lower serum albumin before the transplants (r= 0.39, P =.014), longer operation time (r=0.27, P =.05), higher intraoperative packed red cells (r=0.28, P =.049) and fresh frozen plasma transfusions (r=0.42, P =.004), higher bilirubin at Day 7 (r=-.386, P =.005), and higher serum creatinine at Day 7 after the transplants (r=-.031, P =.025) correlated significantly with a lower nadir in platelets after the transplant. Nadir in platelet count was significantly lower in nonsurvivors compared with survivors (16 vs. 36x103/cmm, P =.0001). Forty-three percent (9 of 21) of the patients with nadir platelet counts of <=30x103/cmm had a major infection within 30 days of the transplant compared with 17% (5 of 29) with nadir platelet counts > 30x103/cmm (P =.04). Fungal infections occurred in 14% of the patients with nadir platelet counts of <=30x103/cmm versus 0% in those with nadir platelet counts of > 30x103/cmm (P =.06); all patients with fungal infections had nadir platelet counts of <=30x103/cmm before fungal infection. Nadir in platelet count preceded the first major infection by a median of 7 days. Pretransplant TPO level did not differ between survivors (mean 103 pg/ml) or nonsurvivors (mean 144 pg/ml). After the transplantation, TPO levels increased in both groups. TPO level peaked at Day 7 and subsequently declined in survivors. Nonsurvivors had persistent thrombocytopenia despite a progressive rise in TPO level; TPO level was significantly higher at Day 7 (P =.02), Day 9 (P =.0019), and Day 14 (P =.04) in nonsurvivors compared with survivors.

Conclusion. Persistent thrombocytopenia portended a poor outcome in liver transplant recipients and was not related to low TPO levels. Thrombocytopenia preceded infections and identified a subgroup of liver transplant patients susceptible to early major infections; its precise role in fungal infections warrants validation in larger studies.

(C) 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.