The use of platelet integrin a2bb3 inhibitors in thrombosis, while clinically very effective, is associated with a high risk of bleeding that has limited their use. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have applied their new insights into the integrin-signaling mechanism to develop an integrin a2bb3 inhibitor that suppresses arterial thrombosis without triggering bleeding in mice.1

Next, the team will assess the inhibitor's therapeutic efficacy, toxicity and pharmacological profiles in animal models of thrombosis.

Integrin a2bb3 (GPIIb/IIIa; CD41/CD61) is a transmembrane adhesion protein expressed on the surface of platelets. Following injury, it is activated by thrombin, which makes it accessible to clotting factors such as fibrinogen and von Willebrand factor (vWF). This results in platelet adhesion to the blood vessel, followed by platelet aggregation and ultimately thrombus formation.

Because of its key role in platelet adhesion and aggregation, integrin a2bb3 has long been considered a prime target for disrupting thrombus formation. Indeed, there are three inhibitors on the market: Johnson & Johnson markets the mAb ReoPro abciximab to treat angioplasty and stroke and to accompany percutaneous coronary interventions, and Merck & Co. Inc. sells Integrilin eptifibatide, a cyclic heptapeptide derived from a snake venom protein, and the nonpeptide antagonist Aggrastat tirofiban. Both Merck drugs are marketed to treat coronary arterial indications and as a companion therapeutic for percutaneous coronary intervention.

Although the inhibitors are routinely used to prevent thrombosis during coronary interventions, and about 8 million patients worldwide have been treated with these inhibitors,2 the elevated bleeding risk they carry has limited their broader application.

The high bleeding risk results from inhibition of both platelet-vessel adhesion and platelet-platelet aggregation at wound sites.

Xiaoping Du, a principal investigator in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues at the university have developed an integrin a2bb3 inhibitor that does not cause an increase in bleeding risk. Instead of focusing on preventing integrin a2bb3 activation altogether, the team used its insights into the regulation of integrin a2bb3 signaling to develop an inhibitor that targeted platelet aggregation but not the initial platelet adhesion to the blood vessel wall.

Combining biochemical and genetic approaches, the team first worked out the sequence of regulatory events guiding integrin a2bb3 activity during clotting.

In a first wave of signaling, integrin a2bβ3 is activated by the talin adaptor protein, which binds to the integrin b3 (GPIIIa; CD61) moiety of the protein complex and triggers platelet adhesion. In a second wave, another adaptor protein, G protein alpha 13 (GNA13), replaces talin on the integrin b3 moiety. This step is associated with platelet aggregation (see "Selective inhibition of integrin alpha(2b)beta(3) in thrombosis").

Du and his team identified a binding motif on the C terminus of integrin b3, the EXE motif, that mediated GNA13 binding, leading to the hypothesis that a synthetic peptide containing the EXE motif could selectively disrupt GNA13 binding and, thus, platelet aggregation.

In vitro, a membrane-tethered hexapeptide containing the EXE motif blocked integrin spreading on fibrinogen. In mouse models of both laser-induced, arteriolar and FeCl3-induced, occlusive carotid artery thrombosis, the peptide was as effective as Integrilin in preventing thrombus formation but did so without triggering any bleeding.

"We believe that this type of antithrombotic agent may represent the next generation of antithrombotic therapy, which could not only be very effective but also safer," Du said.

Edward Plow, chair of the Department of Molecular Cardiology at the Lerner Research Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, told SciBX that "given its functionally selective action on integrin, the approach can be seen as the holy grail in the search for an antithrombotic drug."

Results were published in Nature.

Breaking the wave

Although the selective inhibitors described by Du and his team provide a potential boon for targeting integrin in thrombosis and other related indications, further development will hinge on their safety profiles and their efficacy vis-à-vis other well-established antithrombotic therapeutics.

According to Du, "The use of the inhibitor described in our study may be expanded to indications like stroke, where hemorrhage is as much of a risk as thrombosis. Thus, our inhibitor may have additional therapeutic benefits."

Plow, however, cautioned that "so far the inhibitor's effects have only been shown in mice. Earlier a2bb3 integrin antagonists also looked good in initial animal models, and only in clinical studies did bleeding become obvious."

He added that evaluation of the candidates in additional mouse models of thrombosis using larger experimental groups, and then in canine and primate models, will provide answers to this question.

In addition, it will be important to assess the EXE motif-based inhibitor's toxicity profile, including on- and off-target toxicity and other side effects, and measure its pharmacological properties in preclinical models, Du said.

Du told SciBX that his team has prioritized such follow-up studies. "It is important to determine how other b integrin subunits will be impacted by the inhibitor in vivo. Indeed, the study showed that the EXE motif is present also in the related integrin b1a, b1d, b5, b6 and b7 subunits, which may lead to the suppression of other integrin-related processes outside of the platelet compartment," he said.

Du added that inhibition of more than one integrin complex may be beneficial for treating thrombotic conditions and for reducing inflammation associated with thrombosis.

"Many substances released from platelets during coagulation are proinflammatory and, conversely, activated leukocytes and neutrophil extracellular traps promote thrombus formation. Leukocyte integrin signaling is critically important for inflammation," said Du.

With regard to the clinical potential of the new inhibitor, Plow said, "The factors ultimately deciding the inhibitor's fate will be its clinical potential in comparison with antithrombotic therapeutics that presently dominate the market, including P2Y12 antagonists, and whether they can be produced economically as is the case for P2Y12 antagonists."

Sanofi markets Plavix/Iscover clopidogrel acetylsalicylic acid, a P2Y12 (adenosine diphosphate receptor) antagonist, to treat cardiovascular indications and stroke. Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH markets Aggrenox, a modified-release aspirin plus dipyrimadole, for the same indications. Also to treat thrombosis, Bayer AG, The Medicines Co. and Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corp. market the thrombin inhibitors Refludan lepirudin, Angiomax bivalirudin and Arganova argatroban, respectively, and Eisai Co. Ltd. markets Warfarin.

Du said that a patent application covering the EXE motif-based inhibitor has been filed in the U.S. and Europe by the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the team is looking for partners that can facilitate the development of the inhibitors.

Boettner, B. SciBX 6(45); doi:10.1038/scibx.2013.1280 Published online Nov. 21, 2013


1.   Shen, B. et al. Nature; published online Oct. 27, 2013; doi:10.1038/nature12613 Contact: Xiaoping Du, University of Illinois at Chicago, Ill. e-mail:

2.   Coller, B.S. J. Clin. Invest. 122, 4293-4299 (2012)


      Bayer AG (Xetra:BAYN), Leverkusen, Germany

      Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, Ingelheim, Germany

      Eisai Co. Ltd. (Tokyo:4523), Tokyo, Japan

      Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), New Brunswick, N.J.

      Lerner Research Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio

      The Medicines Co. (NASDAQ:MDCO), Parsippany, N.J.             

      Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE:MRK), Whitehouse Station, N.J.

      Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corp. (Tokyo:4508), Osaka, Japan

      Sanofi (Euronext:SAN; NYSE:SNY), Paris, France

      University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Ill.