Antithrombin is a progressive inhibitor of active factor X (FXa) and thrombin (FIIa). Its effect is 500- to 1,000-fold accelerated by heparin or heparan sulfate. Heterozygous type I (quantitative) and most type II (qualitative) antithrombin deficiencies highly increase the risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE), while homozygous mutations are lethal. The functional defect affecting the heparin-binding site confers moderate risk of VTE to heterozygous and high risk of VTE to homozygous individuals.
Antithrombin activity assays based on the inhibition of FIIa and FXa were compared for their efficiency in detecting heparin-binding site defects.
With a single exception, in heterozygotes for heparin-binding site defects (n = 20), anti-FIIa activities remained in the reference interval, while anti-FXa activities were uniformly decreased. In individuals who were homozygous for heparin-binding site mutations (n = 9), anti-FIIa activities were in the range of 48% to 80%; the range of anti-FXa activities was 9% to 25%. Anti-FIIa and anti-FXa activities in type I deficiencies and type II pleiotropic deficiency did not differ significantly.
Anti-FXa antithrombin assay is recommended as a first-line test to detect type II heparin-binding site antithrombin deficiency.