Superior Vana Caval Syndrome


Superior Vena Caval Syndrome (SVCS) results from a space occupying lesion (SOL) in the superior mediastinum. The presence of a SOL results in compression of structures passing through the mediastinum. The most prominent clinical manifestations result from compression of superior vena cava and for this reason it is also referred as superior vena caval syndrome. Superior mediastinal syndrome,  a term that captures the pathogenesis of the syndrome, is also used. SVCS was first described by William Hunter in 1757 in a patient with syphilitic aortic aneurysm. Today the most common cause is a malignancy.

Anatomy of the Superior Mediastinum

Superior mediastinum is bound

  1. Inferiority by an imaginary plane running from the sternal  angle to the fourth thoracic vertebra,
  2. Superiority by the thoracic inlet
  3. Anterior by manubrium of the sternum
  4. Posteriorly by the bodies of first four thoracic vertibrae.
  5. Laterally by the pleura.

It is space through which tubular structures pass from the neck to the thoracic organs. These include the following

  1. Arch of the aorta and its branches including Brachiocephalic artery, Left Common carotid artery, Left Subclavian artery – to the left upper limb.
  2. Superior Vena Cava and its tributaries Brachiocephalic veins, Left superior intercostal vein, Supreme intercostal vein, Azygos vein
  3. Lymph nodes draining the lung are found in the fatty tissues.
  4. Oesophagus

Pathogenesis of SVCS

Superior mediastinum has rigid walls, making the structures passing through it prone to compression by mass lesions. The commonest cause of compression is a malignancy arising from or involving structures of superior mediastinum. Lung cancer and lymphoma being the two commonest causes of SVCS. Some conditions like Mediastinal fibrosis may constrict rather than compress the mediastinum. Indwelling vascular lines has increased the risk of thrombosis of superior vena cava common. One needs to consider the possibility of thrombosis in patients who have indwelling venous access devices.  The table lists the causes of superior vena caval syndrome.

Malignant Non-Malignant
  1. Lung cancer
  2. Lymphoma
  3. Others: metastatic cancers, primary leiomyosarcomas of the mediastinal vessels, plasmocytomas
  1. Mediastinal fibrosis
  2. Vascular diseases, such as aortic aneurysm, vasculitis, and arteriovenous fistulas
  3. Infections, such as histoplasmosis, tuberculosis, syphilis, and actinomycosis
  4. Benign mediastinal tumors such as teratoma, cystic hygroma, thymoma, and dermoid cyst
  5. Cardiac causes, such as pericarditis and atrial myxoma
  6. Thrombosis related to the presence of central vein catheters

Manifestations

The common manifestations of superior vena cava syndrome include

  1. Dyspepsia
  2. Swelling of the face and upper extremities
  3. Cough, chest pain
  4. Dysphagia

Examination shows distended neck veins and chest wall oedema, plethora of face, and oedema of the arms.

Diagnosis

Radiology: Radiograph of chest usually shows a mediastinal mass. If not this is apparent of on a CT scan. The CT scan is also needed to define extent of disease and invasion of the great vessels, bronchus, and the spinal cord.

Biopsy and Cytology: The investigations to establish diagnosis include sputum cytology, examination of pleural fluid (if present) and histology. The tissue for histological examination may be obtained by bronchoscopy, thoracoscopy, mediastinoscopy guided lymph node biopsy, CT guided core needle biopsy of the mass. A bone marrow examination may be of value if the haemogram is abnormal. A careful examination of the supraclavicular region shows nodes in about 2/3rd of the patients with SVCS which can be biopsied.

Treatment

The aim of treatment of SVCS is to relive symptoms at the same time not compromise diagnosis or the possibility of cure. All patients should be given head elevation and oxygen. Diuretics can reduce oedema but this comes at the cost of dehydration. Tissue must be obtained for diagnosis. Unless there has been a substantial delay in diagnosis, initiation of treatment is not an emergency and tissue can be obtained. Vascular stents can be inserted in patients who are very symptomatic to relieve symptoms till diagnosis is made. 

The treatment of SVCS is disease specific. Chemotherapy with or without radiation is indicated in patients with lung cancer (small cell as well as non-small cell). The response rate in small-cell lung cancer exceeds 90% with 70% of the patients remaining disease free. Addition of radiation to chemotherapy reduces the risk of recurrence. About 60% of the patients with non-amall cell lung cancer respond to therapy. The disease recurs in about 20% of these. Patients with NSCLS presenting with SVCS have a poorer survival than those who do not. Lymphoma is treated with chemotherapy. 

Catheter-induced SVCS may be treated with thrombolytic agents early (< 5 days) in the course of the disease. Catheters of patients with prolonged symptoms should be removed and this should be done under cover of heparin.

Patients who have cancers that do not respond to chemotherapy or radiation can be palliated by placement of vascular and tracheal stents where possible.

Clinical Features of Megaloblastic Anaemia


Megaloblastic anaemia is a macrocytic anaemia resulting from the deficiency of vitamin B12 or folic acid characterised by the presence of megaloblasts in the bone marrow. It has haematological and neurological manifestations. The haematological manifestations are seen with folate as well as vitamin B12 deficiency. Folate deficiency in adults does not affect the nervous system.

Cobalamin deficiency is slow and “pure”. Folate deficiency is rapid and “impure”. Deficiecy of vitamin B12 occurs because of loss of intrinsic factor resulting in an isolated defect of B12 absorption. No other nutrients are affected. The body stores of B12 can last months. This results in B12 deficiency being a slow and “pure” deficiency. Symptoms come on slowly, over months. Folate deficiency evolves relatively quickly and is most commonly because of alcoholism or malabsorption. It is associated with other deficiencies and is rapid and “not pure”.

 

Manifestationf o megaloblastic anaemia

Figure 1. Clinical Manifestations of Megaloblastic Anaemia

Haematological Manifestations

Haematological changes resulting from vitamin B12 deficiency and folate deficiency are indistinguishable. Megaloblastic anaemias are macrocytic anaemia but macrocytosis is not specific to megaloblastic anaemia. It is however exceptional for other diseases characterised by macrocytosis to have an mean capsular volume (MCV) > 110fl.  This value can considered the threshold above which an anaemia is unlikely to be anything other than megaloblastic anaemia.

The earliest change in a megaloblastic anaemia is macrocytosis. This precedes changes in erythrocyte indices. Changes in mean capsular haemoglobin (MCH) follow and then the MCV rises. Haemoglobin usually falls after the MCV increases to >97 fl. As the severity of anaemia increases the peripheral smear shows aniscytosis and poikilocytosis, nucleated cells, Howell-Jolly bodies and Cabot’s ring. Microcytes and erythrocyte fragments that represent dyserythropoiesis may be seen. Polychromasia is absent and this distinguishes megaloblastic anaemia from haemolytic anaemia.

The term megaloblatic anaemia is a misnomer. The disease is actually a panmyelosis.  Erythroid, myeloid and megakaryocytic series are affected. Thrombocytopenia and leucopenia (neutropenia and to a lesser extent lymphopenia) usually occur late in the course. It is uncommon for patients with mild anaemia to have platelets and neutrophils but occasionally changes in leucocytes and/or platelets may dominate.

Iron deficiency or β-thalassaemia trait result in microcytosis and hypochromia and may incidentally co-exist with megaloblastic anaemia. Co-existence of either of these diseases with megaloblastic anaemia may mask macrocytosis of megaloblastic anaemia. Presence of hypersegmented neutrophils in a patients with normocytic normochromic anaemia should raise the suspicion of a megaloblastic anaemia co-existing with Iron deficiency or β-thalassaemia trait.

Neurological Manifestations

Cobalamine deficiceny causes neurological dysfunction. Folate deficiency causes symptoms only in children. Children with inborn errors of folate metabolism may have myelopathy, brain dysfunction and seizures.

The neurological manifestations of B12 deficiency are a result of a combination of upper motor neuron manifestations from subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord, sensory and lower motor neuron manifestations from peripheral neuropathy and neurophychiatratic manifestations. Subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord (SACD) is a degerative disease of the spinal cord involving the posterior and lateral column (corticospinal and spinoceribellar tracts) that starts in the cervical and the thoracic region.

The earliest neurological manifestations are impaired sense of vibration and position and symmetric dysesthasia that involve the lower limb. This is frequently associated with sensory ataxia. With progression spastic paraparesis develops. The patients have brisk knee reflexes, reflecting an upper motor neuron involvement and depressed ankle reflex, reflecting a peripheral neuropathy. Bladder involvement is unusual. Some patients may have optic atrophy.

Neuropsychiatric manifestation include memory loss, depression, hypomania, paranoid psychosis with auditory and visual hallucinations.

Other manifestations

Skin and nails can show pigmentations. Mucosa of the villi undergoes megalobkastic change resulting in temporary malabsorption.

Response to therapy

Haematological Recovery

  • Day 1: Feeling better
  • Day2-3: Reticulocytosis appears
  • Day 7-10: Peak retuculocytosis
  • Day 15 onwards: Neutrophilic hypersegmentation disappears
  • Day 56 (8 weeks): Blood counts become fully .normal

Neurological Recovery

Neurologic improvement begins within the first week also and is typically complete in 6 weeks to 3 months. Its course is not as predictable as hematologic response and may not be complete.

 

 

The M-Band


Monoclonal Gammopathy-02

Figure 1. Each plasma cell produces a different type of antibody. Normal γ globin band is depicted in the left column. The plasma cell numbers are normal and each produces an antibody with a different amino acid structure and electrophoretic mobility. Patients with monoclonal gammopathy have expansion (increase number) of a plasma cell clone (red in the diagram) resulting in the production of a disproportionate large amount of immunoglobulin from one type of plasma cell. This results in the M Band (see below). Patients with polyclonal gammopathy have an expansion (increased number) of plasma cells. This is usually occurs in response to infection/inflammation that result in production of a diversity of antibodies. The diversity is reflected in increase in the γ but as no one clone dominates the sharp M band is not seen.

What is an M-Band?

Immunoglobulins are antigen binding molecules secreted by plasma cells. Immunoglobulins bind antigens and play a role acquired immunity. Plasma cells develop from antigen exposed B-lymphocytes. The process of maturation of lymphocytes involves inducing mutations in region of the immunoglobulin gene that encodes for antigen binding regions, the hypervariable regions. This makes the DNA and consequently the amino acid sequence of the immunoglobulin secereted by a plasma cell unique. This is true even when two plasma cells make antibody against the same antigen or antigenic epitope (see figure 1).

Monoclonal Gammopathy-01

Figure 2. The serum protein separate into many bands on electrophoresis. The albumin is a dark band closest to the anode. This is followed by the α1, α2, β and γ bands. The immunoglobulin are mainly found in the γ globulin band but some may be found in the β globin band. The electrophoretic mobility of a molecule depends on the charge it carries which in turn depends on the amino acid sequence. Amino acid sequence determines the antigen specificity and differs between antibodies resulting in a slight variation in electrophoretic mobility of immunoglobulins and resulting in the γ region being a broad band.


The amino acid sequence determines the charge on the immunoglobulin. The electrophoretic mobility is determined by the charge. Majority of the immunoglobulins move to the γ-globulin fraction of serum proteins, some move with β-globulin. The γ-globulin band is a wide electrophoretic band reflecting the diversity in electrophoretic mobility of immunoglobulins arising from the diversity in amino acid sequences (figure 2).

Monoclonal Gammopathy-03

Figure 3. Patinets of monoclonal gammopathies have an expansion of one clone of plasma cells. This reflects in production of a disproportionally large amount of immunoglobulin with identical electrophoretic mobility resulting in a dense band with in γ globin region


Patients of monoclonal gammopathies have clonal expansion of plasma cells. The cells of a clone have identical DNA and produce identical immunoglobulin molecules. When the clone grows to level that it forms a significant proportion of the plasma cell pool the immunoglobulin it produces forms a significant proportion of the total serum immunoglobulins. The identical electrophoretic mobility of molecules produced by the clone results in a disproportionately large number of immunoglobulin concentrating to a point on electrophoresis forming a band.  This is known as the M band.  Lymphoma cells, notably those of lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma, can secrete immunoglobulin and are associated with an M band for similar reasons.

Diseases associated with an M-Band

The M-Band is a serum marker for plasma cell dycrasias and Waldenström macroglobulinemia. IgM and non-IgM (mainly IgG and IgA) monoclonal bands have differing clinical implications. The former is more commonly associated with lymphoproliferative disease and the latter with plasma cell dycrasias. The presence of an M band only indicates a clonal expansion of immunoglobulin producing cells. It does not indicate malignancy. The diagnosis of malignancy is made by features that suggest end organ damage. The absence of end organ damage indicates a premalignant disease including monoclonal gammopathy of uncertain significance (MGUS), soldering multiple myeloma or smoldering Waldenström macroglobulinemia.  The evidence of end-organ damage includes

  1. non-IgM Monoclonal Gammoathies: CRAB (elevated calcium, renal involvement, anaemia and osteolytic (bone) lesions) creatinine,
  2. IgM Monoclonal Gammapathies: Anemia, constitutional symptoms, hyperviscosity, lymphadenopathy, or hepatosplenomegaly that can be attributed to the underlying lymphoproliferative disorder if diagnosis is Waldenström macroglobulinemia or CRAB (elevated calcium, renal involvement, anaemia and osteolytic (bone) lesions) creatinine if the diagnosis of IgM myeloma

False positive M-Band

The presence of M band indicates presence of a clonal expansion of plasma cells. When end organ damage co-exists with M band a diagnosis of a malignancy (multiple myeloma or Waldenström macroglobulinemia) is made. In the absence of end organ damage the diagnosis of a premalignant disease is made. Proliferation a of plasma cells are seen in infections/inflammation. These are polyclonal and result in s polyclonal gammopath. They do not result in the presence of an M-band.

 

 

Evolution and Spread of HbS


The gene for β globin (OMIM  is present on chromosome 11 (11p15.4) along with other globin genes (ε, γ, γ and δ). This is known as the β-globin cluster . Individuals carrying identical genes on the β-globin gene cluster may not have identical DNA sequences in non-codeing regions of the DNA of the cluster. The non-coding regions include segments of DNA between genes and introns within genes. . Differences in DNA exist between individuals every 1000-2000 bases in the form of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Single nucleotide polymorphisms are variations in a single nucleotide that occurs at a specific position in the genome. Many of these differences have no consequences on gene expression because either they do not result in change in amino acid sequence or they occur in regions of DNA that neither code for the gene nor regulate the gene. SNPs evolve by spontaneous mutations over time. The lesser the number of such differences between two individuals closer the individuals are the each other genetically (and in terms of evolution). Fewer differences in SNPs between individuals mean a more recent common ancestor.

One of the meanings of the word haplotype is a pattern of SNPs. A haplotype may be considered as a DNA “environment” in which the gene(s) occurs. This “environment” is created by the sequence of single nucleotide polymorphisms in which the gene(s) exists. As mentioned above differences in SNPs (and hence the “environment” the gene(s) exist in) evolve by spontaneous mutations over period of time. Fewer the differences between the “environments” the genes occurs in the more the likelihood that they come from related individuals.

HbS results from a single base substitution in the codon 6 of the β-globin gene. GAG becomes GTA resulting in substitution of valine for glutamate. This change results in a haemoglobin that crystallizes in hypoxic conditions resulting in a haemolytic anaemia. HbS occurs in diverse population groups including African, Mediterranean, Middle-Eastern and Indian. Is the haplotype of the HbS gene in these regions similar?

The HbS mutation occurs on five different haplotypes four African and one Arab-Indian. The mutation is the same (GAG to GTA on codon 6) but the SNPs are different. The haplotypes are

  1. Senegal: The Senegal HbS haplotype is found in Atlantic West Africa and Portugal
  2. Benin: The Benin HbS haplotype is found Central West Africa, Northern Africa and Mediterranean Europe (Greece, Sicily)
  3. Central African Republic or Bantu: The Central African Republic or Bantu is found in South Central and Eastern Africa
  4. Cameroon: The Cameroon haplotype is found in the Eton ethnic group of eastern Cameroon
  5. Arab-Indian: The Arab-Indian haplotype is the only non-African phenotype of HbS found in the eastern oasis of Saudi Arabia and India.

Origin of Haplotypes

There are two theories about the origin of haplotypes. The first, and the more accepted one, states that the five haplotypes arose from five independent mutations. An alternative hypothesis states that HbS mutation occurred only once and spread to other haplotypes by gene conversion.

 

Haplotypes and Severity of Symptoms

Symptoms of sickle cell anaemia are a consequence of crystallisation of haemoglobin under hypoxic conditions. HbF inhibits sickling. Patients with high HbF have fewer symptoms. The Arab-Indian and the Senegal haplotype are associated with higher HbF levels (17% and 12.4% respectively). In general patients carrying these haplotypes have milder symptoms than the Bantu or Benin haplotypes (Blood 2014; 123: 481)

 

Haplotypes and Human Migrations

Trade, conquests and human migrations (voluntary and slave trade) have disseminated the African haplotypes beyond Africa.

  1. The Mediterranean: Most of the Mediterranean (Greece and Scilly) has the Benin haplotype. This reflects pre-historic migrations from Central West Africa along the then fertile Sahara to North Africa. From here it spread to the Mediterranean via the interactions (Trade and wars) between the two regions. The only exception is Portugal. Portugal has the Senegal haplotype which reflects the trading contacts between Portugal and Atlantic West Africa (Angola and Mozambique).
  2. Americas: Neither the native americans nor the original European settlers to the Americas carried the HbS gene. HbS was imported to the Americas with the slaves from Africa. Jamaica was an important slave import hub and records for where tthe slaves arrived from are available. Jamaica has 73% Benin haplotype, 17% Bantu and 10% Senegal haplotypes. These numbers are close to the actual number of slaves who arrived in Jamaica from regions of Africa where these haplotypes are prevalent. Similarly the distribution of haplotype correspond to the origins of slaves in Baltimore and South Carolina (Mariam Bloom. Understanding Sickle Cell Disease, Page 34).
  3. Arab or Indian: It is not clear if the Arab-Indian haplotype originated in India or Saudi Arabia. But considering that all of tribal India has only one haplotype but the East and West Arabian Peninsula have different haplotypes it is possible that the haplotype originated in India.
  4. Spread to Other Parts: As opposed to the era of slave trade modern migration of people in the recent past have been voluntary. These populations have spread across the world as have those form mediterranean but to a lesser extent. These migrations have introduced the HbS gene in areas where it was not indigenous.

 

Anaemia with Hyperbilirubinaemia


A 49-year-old female presented with dyspnoea on exertion of 1 month duration. Examination reviled pallor and icterus. There was no lymphadenopathy, clubbing, koilonychia, platonychia, petechiae or purpura. There was no oedema of feet. The pulse was 90/min and the blood pressure 130/70 mm of Hg. Examination of the respiratory, cardiac and nervous systems did not show any abnormality. There was no organomegaly.

The haemoglobin was 4.9 g/dL with an erythrocyte count 1.37 x 1012/L, haematocrit of 16%, MCV of 116.78 fL, MCH of 35.77 pg and MCHC 30.63 of g/L.  The leucocytes count was 2800 with 35% neutrophils and 65% lymphocytes. The platelet count was 90 x 109/L. The peripheral smear showed macrocytosis and anisocytosis. Hypersegmented neutrophils were seen. The reticulocyte count was 3%.

The bilirubin was 2.1 mg/dL with a direct bilirubin of 1.8mg/dL and an indirect bilirubin of 0.3mg/dL. The Lactate dehydrogenase was 1417IU (normal 105 – 333 IU/L).

Anaemia and unconjugated hyperbilirubinaemia are characteristic of haemolysis. Does this patient have haemolytic anaemia?

Haemolysis shortens erythrocyte lifespan and results in increases haemoglobin breakdown. Haemoglobin is made of heme and globin. Heme consists of porphyrin ring at the centre of which is iron in the ferrous state. Iron released from catabolism of heme is reused. The porphyrin ring is catabolised to bilirubin. The bilirubin is transported to the liver for conjugation and excretion (see haemoglobin catabolism). Patients of haemolytic anaemia have unconjugated hyperbilirubinaemia because the increased bilirubin production overwhelms the hepatic bilirubin conjugation capacity.

One of the characteristics of megaloblastic anaemia is ineffective erythropoiesis. Ineffective erythropoiesis is defined as a sub-optimal (fewer) production of mature erythrocytes from a proliferating pool of immature erythroblasts. Each immature erythroblast produces less than the optimal number of erythrocytes because of premature death of erythroid precursors including haemoglobinized precursors. The haemoglobin released from haemoglobinized erythroid precursors is catabolised in the same manner as haemoglobin released from lysed erythrocytes (see haemoglobin catabolism). Megaloblastic anaemias are associated with unconjugated hyperbilirubinaemia because of death of haemoglobinized erythroid precursors.

The treatment of haemolytic anaemia and megaloblastic anaemia are different? How does one differentiate megaloblastic anaemia from that because of haemolytic anaemia? Does this patients have a haemolytic anaemia or megaloblastic anaemia?

Haemolytic anaemia is characterised by shortened erythrocyte survival. Erythrocytes survival is estimated by the use of radionucleotides something that is not possible at most centres. In clinical practice, a shortened erythrocyte survival is inferred from a high reticulocyte count. Reticulocytes are erythrocytes that have been produced in the preceding 24 hours. The erythrocytes survival is about 120 days and about 1% of erythrocytes are produced every day. Consistent with this the normal reticulocyte count is 0.5-1.5%.In patients of haemolytic anaemia, ddestruction of erythrocytes is matched by an increased production by the bone marrow. This manifests as reticulocytosis (see reticulocyte count). Megaloblastic anaemia occurs because of decreased production of erythrocytes and this manifests as reticulocytopenia. The difference between haemolytic anaemia and megaloblastic anaemia is the reticulocytosis in the former reticulocytopenia in the latter. This patient had a high reticulcoyte count but after correction both the reticulocyte production index [0.43] and corrected reticulocyte count [1.07%] were low excluding haemolysis. This patient was evaluated for megaloblastic anaemia.

The haemogram has clues to differentiate between haemolytic anaemia and megaloblastic anaemia. These include

  1. A very high MCV: The MCV is very high. Patients with haemolytic anaemia have a mild elevation in MCV. An MCV value >110fL is almost exclusively found in megaloblastic anaemias because of folate and/or B12 deficiency.
  2. Pancytopenia: B12 and folate deficiency impair DNA synthesis impairing erythrpoieis, myelopoiesis and megakaryopoiesis. Nutritional megaloblastic anaemias because of vitamin B12 and/or folate deficiency may show pancytopenia.
  3. Hypersegmented neutrophils (>5% neutrophils with >5lobes) is a feature of megaloblastic anaemia

Other features of megaloblastic anaemia include rise serum transferrin receptor, increased serum iron, serum ferritin and methemalbumin levels. Like haemolytic anaemia the serum haptoglobin is low and the LDH high. LDH levels in megaloblastic anaemia can ve very high.

This patients had a low serum B12 and was treated with parental B12 (1mg alternate day for 5 doses) and was evaluated for cause of vitamin B12 deficiency. As Schilling’s test was not available a diagnosis of pernicious anaemia was made by documenting gastric atrophy and anti-parietal cell antibodies.

Heterozygous β-Thalassaemia 


β-Thalassaemia is an inherited disease characterised by an imbalance between production of α and β globin chains of haemoglobin resulting from impaired production of β chains. The genes responsible for β-thalassaemia carry mutations in areas coding for the β globin gene or regions regulating the expression of this gene. Patients who are homozygous of compound heterozygous for the gene are symptomatic. They manifest as thalassaemia major. Thalassaemia major is a fatal illness where patients suffer the consequences of anaemia, bone marrow hyperplasia and iron overload. Iron overload that results from increased iron absorption and repeated transfusion is the cause of death. The treatment consists of lifelong transfusion with iron chelation or in those who have a matched donor, allogeneic bone marrow transplantation.

Thalassaemia Inheritance

The risk of inheritance of β-thalassaemia in offsprings when both parents are heterozygous is shown on the left. There is a 25% risk of thalassaemia major, 50% risk of heterozygous β-thalassaemia and 25% of the offsprings will be normal. If one of the parents does not carry the thalassaemia gene there is a 50% risk of the offspring carrying heterozygous β-thalassaemia and 50% of the offsprings will be normal.

As opposed to homologous or compound heterozygous β-thalassaemia, heterozygous the β-thalassaemia is asymptomatic. The condition is also known as β-thalassaemia minor (see classification of β-thalassaemia). The terminology reflecting the asymptomatic nature of the disease. Though β-thalassaemia is an asymptomatic disease the diagnosis has clinical implications. These include:

  1. Risk of β-thalassaemia in children: β-Thalassaemia major is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner. If both the parents are heterozygous for β-thalassaemia there is a 25% risk of the child suffering from thalassaemia major (see figure above, left). The most effective way to prevent β-thalassaemia major is to ensure that at least one parents does not carry the β-thalassaemia gene (see figure above, right). Diagnosis of an index case of heterozygous β-thalassaemia should initiate a search for all individuals carrying the β-thalassaemia gene in the family. Patients with heterozygous β-thalassaemia should be discouraged from choosing another heterozygous β-thalassaemia as a life partner. Those who make this choice despite counselling or those who already married should be explained the importance of prenatal diagnosis of β-thalassaemia major on conception and encouraged to undergo the same.
  2. Prevention of unnecessary iron therapy: Iron deficiency anaemia, like thalassaemia, is microcytic and hypochromic. Iron therapy alleviates the anaemia of thalassaemia only if iron deficiency co-exists. Iron therapy is associated with gastrointestinal adverse effects. Some patients with heterozygous β-thalassaemia have increased iron absorption and there have been reports of iron overload in β-thalassaemia trait (Br J Haematol). Diagnosis of heterozygous β-thalassaemia spares the patient unnecessary and sometimes dangerous iron therapy.

Pathophysiology of Heterozygous β-Thalassaemia

Heterozygous β-thalassaemia minor is characterised by an imbalance between the α and β globin chains because of decreased production of β-chains. The clinical manifestations of thalassaemia depend on the degree on imbalance between α chains and non-α (β+γ) chains. Thalassaemia minor, the phenotype of heterozygous β-thalassaemia results when the ratio of α to non-α chains is 2:1 (Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med 2012;2:a011726).

Clinical Features

Patients of heterozygous thalassaemia are asymptomatic. The clinical presentations is that of thalassaemia minor. Diagnosis is usually made incidentally when

  1. A haemogram is performed for another reason or
  2. Screening is performed following detection of a β-thalassaemia patient in the family
  3. Evaluation of anaemia of pregnancy

Though traditionally heterozygous β-thalassaemia are considered to be asymptomatic recent studies have found these patients to have symptoms of mild anaemia. Heterozygous β-thalassaemia may become symptomatic

  1. In pregnancy:The third trimester of pregnancy sees a plasma volume expansion accompanied by an increased production of red cells. In normal women the volume expansion is more than the increase in the number of red cells. Women become anaemic in the third trimester as a result of this discrepancy. Patients with β-thalassaemia trait show a plasma volume expansion but are not able to increase the number of red cells like normal women do. As a consequence women with heterozygous β-thalassaemia become more anaemic than normal women. This anaemia is usually mild and haemoglobin values lower than 8-9g/dL should prompt a search for another cause of anaemia. Iron deficiency anaemia is the commonest anaemia in pregnancy and it mimics thalassaemia. Serum iron and iron binding capacity may not be reliable in pregnancy and a serum ferritin must be performed for diagnosing iron deficiency.
  2. In case of autosomal dominant β-thalassaemia: Some forms of deletion β-thalassaemia result in the formation of an unstable β chain that forms inclusions. These inclusions cause ineffective erythropoietin and a thalassaemia like syndrome. Such patients are said to have a dominant β-thalassaemia and have the clinical picture of thalassaemia intermedia even when heterozygous.
  3. If the co-inherit an overdose of α thalassaemia genes: Manifestations of β-thalassaemia depend on the ratio of α to non-α chains. Thalassaemia minor results when the ration is 1.5-2.5:1 and intermedia when the ratio is about 4:1. Thalassaemia major is seen with higher rations. Some patients have three or even four α globin genes (ααα or αααα). These patients produce more α globin chains. Increase in α chains can push up the ratio of α to non-α chains and result in manifestations of thalassaemia intermedia in heterozygous β-thalassaemia. Similarly co-inheritance of α and β thalassaemias can attenuate the manifestations of thalassaemia.

Laboratory Features

  1. Haemogram: Heterozygous β-thalassaemia is characterised by anaemia, low MCH and low MCV. The MCHC is usually normal. The erythrocytes count is high and there may be a slight increase in the reticulocyte count. The peripheral smear shows microcytosis, hypochromia, poikilocytosis, basophilic strippling and target cells. Co-inheritance of α-thalassaemia attenuates the findings. The red cell indices are normal at birth. Changes associated with heterozygous β-thalassaemia become apparent by 3 months. By 6 months thalassaemic changes are firmly established.
  2. Haemoglobin A2: Haemoglobin A2 (HbA2) is in the range of 3.5-7%. Iron deficiency causes a disproportionate fall in HbA2 in patients with heterozygous β-thalassaemia but does not push the HbA2 levels in the normal range. Heterozygous β-thalassaemia with normal HbA2 is discussed below.
  3. Bone Marrow: The bone marrow shows erythroid hyperplasia with pyknotic normoblasts dominating. There is ineffective erythropoiesis mainly due to destruction of haemoglobinized precursors. Studies have shown approximately 25% decrease in efficiency of erythropoiesis.
  4. Iron Metabolism: Rate of iron absorption is slightly increased. Some cases of iron overload have been reported. Iron deficiency may co-exist the heterozygous β-thalassaemia particularly in pregnancy. Serum ferritin estimations should be performed to diagnose iron deficiency.
  5. Osmotic Fragility: Osmotic fragility is increased particularly after 24 hours of sterile incubation of erhthrocytes. It has been suggested that this be used as a screening test for heterozygous β-thalassaemia but has not gained widespread acceptability.
  6. Globin Chain Synthesis: Heterozygous β-thalassaemia is associated with a α:β ratio of 1.5-2.5:1.

Genotype Phenotype Co-relations

There is a continuous spectrum of changes with mild alleles having less pronounced effect on haematological parameters. Severe alleles have higher HbA2 values. Mild thalassaemia with high HbA2 suggest a promoter mutation.

Interaction between Heterozygous β-thalassaemia and other Haemoglobinopathies

Heterozygous β-thalassaemia is a common disorder and a chance associations may be seen with other haemoglobinopathies or inherited disorders of erythrocytes. Fortunately no deleterious association has been found with most disorders these include glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency, hereditary spherocytosis  and pyruvate kinase deficiency.

α-Thalassaemia

α-Thalasaemia tends to reduce the α:β globin ratio. The amount of free α globin chain reduces attenuating the manifestations of heterozygous β-thalassaemia.

Sickle Cell Disease

β-Thalassaemia and sickle-cell diseases are common genetic diseases. Co-inheritance of the two is found in Africa, Mediterranean and sporadically through India. The symptoms depend on the relative amounts of HbS and HbA. HbA polymerises less than HbS. High levels of HbA reduce symptoms of sickling.  HbF is excluded from and protects against sickling. The clinical manifestations of patients co-inhereting sickle-cell and β-thalassaemia depend on the type of thalassaemia allele inherited and the HbF levels.

  1. Sickle β-thalassaemia with β0 or severe β+ alleles: Mediterranean forms of β-thalassaemia trait are either β0 severe β+. Patients from this region have severe sickling symptoms and HbA levels <15%.
  2. Sickle β-thalassaemia with mild β+ alleles: African patients of sickle β-thalassaemia inherit mild β+ alleles.  These patients have haemoglobin levels in the range of 20-30%  and mild symptoms . Many do not have symptoms. Diagnosis in some may be made incidentally.
  3. Sickle β-thalassaemia with high HbF: Patients from Indian and Saudi Arabia have mild symptoms despite inheriting severe β alleles because of high levels of HbF.

Treatment of Heterozygous β-Thalassaemia

Heterozygous β-thalassaemia does not need any treatment. A family screening should be carried out to detect other members carrying the thalassaemic β globin gene. Iron therapy should not be administered to patients empirically. Some patient have an increase iron absorption and iron overload has been reported. Iron studies should guide iron therapy. Anaemia can worsen during pregnancy. Folate and iron supplementation may be needed.

 

 

Calreticulin and Myeloproliferative Disease


Myeloproliferative disorders (polycythaemia vera [PV], essential thrombocytosis [ET], progressive myelofibrosis [PMF]) are a group of diseases that are characterised by increased proliferation of blood cells, splenomegaly, myelofibrosis, thrombosis and risk of malignant transformation.  The year 2005 was a landmark year for myeloproliferative diseases. Four groups of scientists identified the presence of JAK2V617F mutations in PV. This mutation is present in about 98% patients with PV. Mutations of exon 12 of the JAK2 gene can be found in 1-2% of the PV. These patients do not show the JAK2V617F mutation. The discovery of these mutations gave a genetic definition PV making diagnosis objective.

PV is diagnosed by the presence primary erythrocytosis in the precession of a JAK2 mutation referred to above. Chronic myeloid leukaemia is diagnosed by demonstrating the BCR-ABL1 translocation. JAK2V617F is also present in 50-60% of ET and PMF. Mutation of the gene MPL is found in 1-2%  patients of ET and 5-10% of the patients with PMF. The presence of these mutation helps make diagnosis. However, The diagnosis of PMF and ET in a large proportion of patients requires exclusion of a reactive disorder and other myeloproliferative diseases because these patients (38-49% of ET and 30-45% of PMF) have no genetic marker.

Two publications have shown that a large proportion of the patients with ET and PMF who do not have JAK have mutation calreticulin (CALR) (N Engl J Med. 2013;369(25):2391-2405,  N Engl J Med. 2013;369(25):2379-2390). In addition to ET and PMF CALR mutations are found in the MDS/MPN overlap disorder and refractory anemia with ring sideroblasts with thrombocytosis (RARS-T). They are rare or absent in other myeloid or lymphoid neoplasms or solid tumors.

Calreticulin (CALR) is a major calcium binding protein. The gene for calreticulin is located on 19p13.2. About a quarter of ET and MF have mutation in the CALR gene. All CALR mutations are localised to exon 9 and generate a 1bp frameshift. As a result of this most or almost all the C terminal negative amino acids and calcium binding sites are lost.  There is a complete loss of the KDEL endoplasmic reticulum binding sequence. These mutations have been identified in the haemopoietic stem cell and progenitor compartments. CALR mutations and JAK2 mutations are mutually exclusive.

CALR mutated myeloproliferative disease have a distinct clinical profile. These patients have a lower haemoglobin, lower leukocyte count, higher platelet count and a lower risk of thrombosis. Patients of PMF carrying a CALR mutation have a longer survival than those carrying JAK2 or MPL mutations. Patients with ET carrying the CALR mutations have a longer survival than those carrying the JALK2 mutation. There is no difference between the survival of ET patients carrying CALR mutations and MPL mutations.

Mutated CALR appears to stimulate STAT pathway. It appears to physically bind with the thrombopoietin receptor to stimulate STAT. The erythropoietin receptor is not needed for this action (Blood. 2015;10.1182/blood-2015-11-681932Blood. 2015;126:LBA-4).