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Definition: Fibrinolysis involves the dissolution of the fibrin clot by the protease, plasmin.

Constituents: The fibrin clot, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), contact pathway factors (FXII, prekallikrein, high molecular weight kininogen [HMWK]) and plasminogen.

  • Cells: Activated endothelial cells (source of tPA)
  • Enzymes: tPA, plasminogen (proenzyme, plasmin is the enzyme), contact pathway factors (FXII, prekallikrein and high molecular weight kininogen)
  • Cofactor: Fibrin, polyphosphates
  • Facilitators: Bradykinin (releases tPA)



Sequence of events: Fibrinolysis is also initiated upon vessel injury but is inhibited by thrombin generated through secondary hemostasis. Thus, initially the balance is shifted towards procoagulation, i.e. fibrin production. Once the initiating stimulus for clot formation (vessel injury) is reduced or eliminated (i.e. the defect is sealed by the clot), thrombin generation decreases and the balance then shifts to fibrinolysis.

Sequence of events

This involves the following:

  • Release of plasminogen activators.
  • Plasmin production from plasminogen
  • Clot lysis releasing degradation products.

More information on these events is given below.

Release of plasminogen activators

Injured endothelial cells release tPA, which is the main plasminogen activator. Factor XII is also activated on exposure to subendothelial matrix proteins and forms a complex with high molecular weight kininogen (HMWK) and prekallikrein. This auto-activating complex yields kallikrein from prekallikrein and bradykinin (a potent vasoactive mediator) from HMWK. Bradykinin is a potent inducer of tPA release from endothelial cells and also stimulates release of nitric oxide and prostacyclin from endothelial cells (platelet inhibitors). Furthermore, both FXIIa and kallikrein are direct plasminogen activators but are weaker than tPA.

Plasmin production

Plasminogen binds to fibrin through lysine residues. Plasminogen activators (tPA, FXIIIa and kallikrein) cleave this bound plasminogen to plasmin, which also remains bound to the clot. The binding of plasminogen to the clot amplifies its conversion to plasmin (fibrin acts like a cofactor for tPA). Plasmin is a potent lytic enzyme, which can cleave proteins other than fibrin. Binding of both plasminogen and its active enzymatic form, plasmin, to fibrin serves to localize fibrinolysis to the clot and prevents plasmin from non-specifically lysing other proteins. The fibrinolytic inhibitor, thrombin-activatable fibrinolytic inhibitor, inhibits fibrinolysis by cleaving the lysine residues from fibrin, resulting in weak plasminogen binding to fibrin.

Clot lysis

Plasmin degrades crosslinked fibrin, releasing variably sized degraded fragments of these proteins, called crosslinked degradation products or X-oligomers. The smallest of these products is D-dimer, which consists of two terminal D-domains of adjacent fibrin monomers joined by γ-γ crosslinks. Plasmin also degrades fibrinogen and soluble fibrin, releasing different degradation products, called fibrin(ogen) degradation products (FDPs). The four main types of FDPs consist of fragments X, Y, E, and D. Lysis of the clot eventually restores vessel patency. All of these degradation products (FDP, D-dimer) are used as laboratory markers of fibrinolysis. Note, that the ability of plasmin to lyse the clot depends on the density and strength of the formed fibrin. Lower concentrations of thrombin forms thinner fibrils and a lens dense network, which is more susceptible to lysis. A thicker or denser network is more resistant to lysis. Polyphosphate, released from dense granules of platelets during activation, help make a dense network of fibrin, that resists fibrinolysis (i.e. is antifibrinolytic).


Since thrombosis is so infrequently identified clinically, fibrinolytic inhibitors are rarely used therapeutically.

  • Physiologic:
    • Thrombin-activatable fibrinolytic inhibitor (TAFI, also known as carboxypeptidase B): This cleaves lysine residues in fibrin preventing plasminogen binding. It is activated by the thrombin burst.
    • Plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1): This is the main inhibitor of tPA and is produced in the liver.
    • Antiplasmin: This is the main inhibitor of plasmin and forms complexes with plasmin, targeting it for degradation.
    • Polyphosphates: These are released from dense granules in platelets during the release reaction and make a more rigid dense fibrin clot, that resists fibrinolysis.
  • Pathologic: Pathologic inhibitors have not been recognized in animals, likely due to a lack of diagnostic assays for evaluation of this aspect of hemostasis. However, there are many newly recognized inhibitors of fibrinolysis, which are likely more operative in disease states. This includes polyphosphates (see above – these can be released by cancer cells and are also found in bacteria) and extracellular nuclear material (released by neutrophils in a process called NETosis, dying cells, and cancer cells). For instance, cell free DNA binds to fibrin degradation produces and is a component of the fibrin clot which makes it more resistant to fibrinolysis. The DNA can also help PAI-1 inhibit the action of tPA on generating plasmin from plasminogen. Histones and DNA also make thicker fibrin strands, which are more resistant to fibrinolysis (Gould et al 2015). 
  • Pharmacologic: Tranexamic acid and ε-aminocaproic acid. These both act like lysine and are competitive inhibitors for plasminogen (which binds to lysine residues in the fibrin clot). The anti-fibrinolytic activity of these drugs have been evaluated in horses using tPA-induced fibrinolysis with a TEG® (Fletcher et al., 2013).

Clinical signs

Disorders of fibrinolysis are infrequently recognized, mostly due to the lack of sensitive and specific diagnostic assays for this process of hemostasis. Excessive fibrinolysis will result in hemorrhage from clots being lysed too quickly, whereas inhibition of fibrinolysis will cause persistence of a clot, i.e. thrombosis.

  • Inadequate fibrinolysis: This is usually due to excess inhibition by PAI-1, rather than decreased concentrations or dysfunction of tPA or plasmin. This is most frequently seen in human patients with sepsis-induced disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) and results in thrombosis.
  • Excessive fibrinolysis: This is usually a consequence of disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) and is attributed to excess plasmin generation, which rapidly destroys fibrin clots leading to haemorrhage. Dogs have far more active fibrinolytic enzymes than humans, which may explain why DIC usually manifests as bleeding versus thrombosis.

Sample collection

Several different tubes may be used to measure different aspects of fibrinolysis:

  • EDTA-anticoagulated plasma: D-dimer.
  • Citrate-anticoagulated plasma: Plasma FDP, D-dimer, all other assays.
  • FDP collection tube: Serum FDP. This specialized collection tube contains a snake venom, Botrox atrox venom (Reptilase), to cause clotting and inhibitors of fibrinolysis (aprotonin or soyabean trypsin inhibitor).

Please refer to the sample collection guidelines on how to collect samples appropriately to optimize coagulation test results.


  • Screening tests: FDP assays, D-dimer.
  • Specific tests: Plasminogen concentration, tPA activity.
  • Tests for inhibitors: PAI-1 concentration, tPA-triggered thromboelastography (Fletcher et al., 2013, Spodsberg et al., 2013), TAFI activity (Jessen et al., 2010)
  • Specialized tests: Plasmin-antiplasmin complexes, euglobin lysis time.


Due to the lack of specific diagnostic tests, fibrinolytic disorders are not frequently recognized in animals. Inherited disorders of fibrinolysis have not been reported and there are only isolated reports of acquired fibrinolytic defects, e.g. parvovirus infection. The main disorder associated with abnormalities in fibrinolysis is DIC, as indicated above.

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