Insights into determinants of spleen injury in sickle cell anemia

Sara El Hoss, Sylvie Cochet, Mickaël Marin, Claudine Lapouméroulie, Michael Dussiot, Naïm Bouazza, Caroline Elie, Mariane de Montalembert, Cécile Arnaud, Corinne Guitton, Béatrice Pellegrino, Marie Hélène Odièvre, Frédérique Moati, Caroline Le Van Kim, Yves Colin Aronovicz, Wassim El Nemer and Valentine Brousse

Key Points

  • Spleen filtration function is altered in infants with SCA as early as 3-6 months of age.

  • Both impaired deformability and increased adhesion of sickle RBCs play a key role in splenic loss of function.


Spleen dysfunction is central to morbidity and mortality in children with sickle cell anemia (SCA). The initiation and determinants of spleen injury, including acute splenic sequestration (ASS) have not been established. We investigated splenic function longitudinally in a cohort of 57 infants with SCA enrolled at 3 to 6 months of age and followed up to 24 months of age and explored the respective contribution of decreased red blood cell (RBC) deformability and increased RBC adhesion on splenic injury, including ASS. Spleen function was evaluated by sequential 99mTc heated RBC spleen scintigraphy and high-throughput quantification of RBCs with Howell-Jolly bodies (HJBs). At 6 and 18 months of age, spleen filtration function was decreased in 32% and 50% of infants, respectively, whereas the median %HJB-RBCs rose significantly (from 0.3% to 0.74%). An excellent correlation was established between %HJB-RBCs and spleen scintigraphy results. RBC adhesion to laminin and endothelial cells increased with time. Adhesion to endothelial cells negatively correlated with splenic function. Irreversibly sickled cells (ISCs), used as a surrogate marker of impaired deformability, were detected at enrollment and increased significantly at 18 months. %ISCs correlated positively with %HJB-RBCs and negatively with splenic uptake, indicating a relationship between their presence in the circulation and spleen dysfunction. In the subgroup of 8 infants who subsequently experienced ASS, %ISCs at enrollment were significantly higher compared with the asymptomatic group, suggesting a major role of impaired deformability in ASS. Higher levels of %HJB-RBCs were observed after the occurrence of ASS, demonstrating its negative impact on splenic function.

  • Submitted March 5, 2019.
  • Accepted May 23, 2019.
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