Coagulation Testing in the Core Laboratory

William E. Winter, MD; Sherri D. Flax, MD; Neil S. Harris, MD


Lab Med. 2017;48(4):295-313. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Primary hemostasis begins with endothelial injury. VWF, produced by endothelial cells, binds to platelets and links them to subendothelial collagen. Platelet-derived ADP and thromboxane activate non-adhered platelets via their GPIIb/IIIa receptors, allowing these platelets to participate in platelet aggregation. Secondary hemostasis is initiated with the binding of factor VII to extravascular tissue factor (TF). Factors II, VII, IX and X are vitamin K-dependent factors. The role of vitamin K is to assist in the addition of gamma carboxylate groups to glutamic acids in the "GLA" domains of these factors.

In vitro the intrinsic pathway is initiated when fresh whole blood is placed in a glass tube. The negative charge of the glass initiates the "contact pathway" where FXII is activated and then FXIa cleaves FIX to FIXa. The extrinsic pathway is triggered when tissue factor, phospholipid and calcium are added to plasma anticoagulated with citrate. In vitro, FVII is activated to FVIIa, and TF-FVIIa preferentially converts FX to FXa activating the common pathway.

The prothrombin time is commonly used to monitor warfarin anticoagulant therapy. To correct for differences in reagent and instrument, the international normalized ratio was developed to improve standardization of PT reporting globally. The activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT) is used to evaluate the intrinsic and common pathways of coagulation. The aPTT is useful clinically as a screening test for inherited and acquired factor deficiencies as well as to monitor unfractionated heparin therapy although the anti-Xa assay is now the preferred measure of the effects of unfractionated heparin. The Clauss assay is the most commonly performed fibrinogen assay and uses diluted plasma where clotting is initiated with a high concentration of reagent thrombin.

The mixing study assists in the assessment of an abnormally prolonged PT or aPTT. An equal volume of citrated patient plasma is mixed with normal pooled plasma and the PT or aPTT are repeated on the 1:1 mix. Factor activity assays are most commonly performed as a one-stage assay. The patient's citrated plasma is diluted and mixed 1-to-1 with a single factor-deficient substrate plasma. A PT or aPTT is performed on the above mix, depending on the factor being tested.

Factor inhibitors are antibodies that are most commonly diagnosed in male patients with severe hemophilia A (FVIII deficiency) where they are induced by factor replacement therapy.

Factor inhibitors can also appear in the form of spontaneous autoantibodies in both male and female individuals who were previously well. This is an autoimmune condition called "acquired hemophilia."

Most coagulation laboratories can measure the plasma concentration of VWF protein (VWF antigen) by an immunoturbidimetric technique. Testing the functional activity of VWF, utilizes the drug ristocetin.

The state of multimerization of VWF is important and is assessed by electrophoresis on agarose gels. Type 2a and 2b VWD are associated with the lack of intermediate- and high molecular weight multimers.

The antiphospholipid syndrome (APLS) is an acquired autoimmune phenomenon associated with an increased incidence of both venous and arterial thromboses, as well as fetal loss. Typically, there is a paradoxical prolongation of the aPTT in the absence of any clinical features of bleeding. This is the so-called "lupus anticoagulant (LA) effect." The laboratory definition of the APLS requires the presence of either a "lupus anticoagulant" or a persistent titer of antiphospholipid antibodies.

There are now 2 broad classes of direct-acting oral anticoagulants (DOACs): [1] The oral direct thrombin inhibitors (DTIs) such as dabigatran; and [2] The oral direct factor Xa inhibitors such as rivaroxaban and apixaban. The PT and aPTT are variably affected by the DOACs and are generally unhelpful in monitoring their concentrations. Most importantly, a normal PT or aPTT does NOT exclude the presence of any of the DOACs.