Essential thrombocytosis pathophysiology

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Soujanya Thummathati, MBBS [2]


Essential thrombocytosis arises from hematopoietic stem cells which give rise to megakaryocytes which give rise to platelets (thrombocytes), that are normally involved in blood clotting. Development of essential thrombocytosis is the result of a genetic mutation in the janus kinase 2 (JAK2) gene in 50% of the patients. Other genes that may be involved in the pathogenesis of essential thrombocytosis are CALR, MPL, and THPO genes.[1] On microscopic histopathological analysis, thrombocytosis, bone marrow hyperplasia with hyperlobated megakaryotic nuclei evident of thrombopoiesis are characteristic findings of essential thrombocytosis.


  • Essential thrombocytosis arises from pluripotent hematopoietic stem cells of megakaryocytic lineage that give rise to platelets.[2]
  • Essential thrombocytosis is caused by point mutations in janus kinase 2 (JAK2) gene in 50% of the patients
  • Thrombopoietin destruction is also critical to the development of essential thrombocytosis.
    • Thrombopoietin normally regulates the stimulation, production, and proliferation of megakaryocytes.[3]
    • Despite the high platelet count, essential thrombocytosis paradoxically manifests with an increase in free circulating concentration of thrombopoietin as the abnormal platelets have defective thrombopoietin receptors which impair proper binding of thrombopoietin.[4]
  • Platelets contain different types of granules: alpha (contain P-selectin, platelet factor 4, transforming growth factor-β1, platelet-derived growth factor, fibronectin, B-thromboglobulin, vWF, fibrinogen, and coagulation factors V and XIII), delta (δ) or dense granules (contain ADP or ATP, calcium, and serotonin), gamma (γ), and lambda (λ) granules[5].
    • With defective granules in essential thrombocytosis, there is a deficiency in clotting factors like fibrinogen and von Willebrand (vWF), which impairs the process of aggregation.
    • On the other hand, patients with secondary or reactive thrombocytosis have normal platelet activity with no defects in aggregation.


  • Essential thrombocytosis is associated with mutations in janus kinase 2 (JAK2) gene in 50% of the patients.
  • Janus kinase 2, a non-receptor tyrosine kinase protein belonging to the janus kinase family, helps in signaling pathways involved in hematopoiesis (including thrombopoietin, erythropoietin, granulocyte-colony stimulating factor, Bcl-2, and interleukin-3,5).[7]
    • A point mutation from G to T that results in the substitution of valine for phenylalanine at amino acid 617 of the JAK2 protein first activates the tyrosine kinase in JAK2 and subsequently results in the activation of the JAK-STAT pathway.
    • Activation of the JAK-STAT pathway results in abnormal differentiation and proliferation of the precursor cells, releasing the increased pool of platelets into the circulation.[8]
  • Mutations in the calreticulin (CALR) gene has been identified in patients with essential thrombocytosis who lacked JAK2 mutations.[9]
    • The mechanism by which the mutation triggers the disease remains unknown.
  • MPL (myeloproliferative leukemia protein) and THPO (thrombopoietin) gene mutations may also result in the activation of JAK-STAT pathway, causing abnormal platelet proliferation.[10]

Microscopic Pathology

  • A complete blood count shows marked elevation of platelet count greater than or equal to 600,000/μL of blood and sometimes even higher.
  • The platelet shape and size usually remain unchanged, but variations may occur.
  • The red cell morphology depends on the presence and severity of bleeding.
  • The white cell count remains slightly elevated.
  • Bone marrow biopsy is the definitive diagnostic test for essential thrombocytosis. The bone marrow is usually hypercellular, though it can be normocellular. The megakaryocytes are bigger in size and have hyperlobated nuclei which is the characteristic feature of increased thrombopoiesis. Cells are usually stainable with iron, provided the patient had no significant hemorrhagic events. Collagen fibrosis is typically absent.[2]


  1. Essential thrombocythemia. Genetics Home Reference. Accessed on November 16, 2015.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sanchez S, Ewton A (2006). [ dbfrom=pubmed& "Essential thrombocythemia: a review of diagnostic and pathologic features"] Check |url= value (help). Arch Pathol Lab Med. 130 (8): 1144–50. doi:10.1043/1543-2165(2006)130[1144:ET]2.0.CO;2. PMID 16879015 PMID: 16879015 Check |pmid= value (help). line feed character in |url= at position 54 (help)
  3. Thrombopoietin. Wikipedia. Accessed on Novenber 3rd,2015.
  4. J. Li, Y. Xia & D. J. Kuter (2000). "The platelet thrombopoietin receptor number and function are markedly decreased in patients with essential thrombocythaemia". British journal of haematology. 111 (3): 943–953. PMID 11122159. Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  5. Platelet. Wikipedia. Accessed on Novenber 3rd,2015.
  6. Megakaryocyte. Wikipedia. Accessed on November 16,2015.
  7. Jones AV, Kreil S, Zoi K, Waghorn K, Curtis C, Zhang L; et al. (2005). "Widespread occurrence of the JAK2 V617F mutation in chronic myeloproliferative disorders". Blood. 106 (6): 2162–8. doi:10.1182/blood-2005-03-1320. PMID 15920007.
  8. Essential thrombocythemia. Genetics Home Reference. Accessed on November 16, 2015.
  9. Rotunno, G.; Mannarelli, C.; Guglielmelli, P.; Pacilli, A.; Pancrazzi, A.; Pieri, L.; Fanelli, T.; Bosi, A.; Vannucchi, A. M. (2013). "Impact of calreticulin mutations on clinical and hematological phenotype and outcome in essential thrombocythemia". Blood. 123 (10): 1552–1555. doi:10.1182/blood-2013-11-538983. ISSN 0006-4971.
  10. Essential thrombocythemia. Genetics Home Reference. Accessed on November 16, 2015.
  11. File:Essential Thrombocythemia, Peripheral Blood (10189570483).jpg. Wikimedia Commons.,_Peripheral_Blood_(10189570483).jpg Accessed on November 12, 2015.
  12. File:Essential thrombocythemia (1).jpg. Wikimedia commons. Accessed on November 12, 2015.

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