Circulating membrane-shed microparticles (MPs) participate in regulation of vascular tone. We investigated the cellular origins of MPs in plasma from patients with cirrhosis and assessed the contribution of MPs to arterial vasodilation, a mechanism that contributes to portal hypertension.


We analyzed MPs from blood samples of 91 patients with cirrhosis and 30 healthy individuals (controls) using flow cytometry; their effects on the vascular response to vasoconstrictors were examined in vitro and in vivo.


Circulating levels of leuko-endothelial (CD31(+)/41(-)), pan-leukocyte (CD11a(+)), lymphocyte (CD4(+)), and erythrocyte (CD235a(+)) MPs were higher in patients with cirrhosis than in controls. Plasma of patients with cirrhosis contained hepatocyte-derived MPs (cytokeratin-18(+)), whereas plasma from controls did not. The severity of cirrhosis and systemic inflammation were major determinants of the levels of leuko-endothelial and hepatocyte MPs. MPs from patients with advanced cirrhosis significantly impaired contraction of vessels in response to phenylephrine, whereas MPs from healthy controls or from patients of Child-Pugh class A did not. This effect depended on cyclooxygenase type 1 and required phosphatidylserine on the surface of MPs. Intravenous injection of MPs from patients with cirrhosis into BALB/C mice decreased mean arterial blood pressure.


Cirrhosis is associated with increases in circulating subpopulations of MPs, likely resulting from systemic inflammation and liver cell damage. The overall pool of circulating MPs from patients with advanced cirrhosis impairs vasoconstrictor responses and decreases blood pressure, contributing to the arterial vasodilation associated with portal hypertension.