. Intracerebral Hemorrhage Among Blood Donors and Their Transfusion Recipients. JAMA. 2023 Sep 12;330(10):941-950. PubMed.


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  1. In this intriguing retrospective analysis of two large, independent databases, Zhao and colleagues report that the risk of spontaneous intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) was significantly increased in recipients of red-blood-cell transfusions from donors who manifested multiple intracerebral hemorrhages in the years following donation. Because multiple spontaneous hemorrhages are often associated with cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), the authors make the reasonable assumption that many of these donors are likely to have had CAA, and that this may have incited CAA in transfusion recipients. They hypothesize that a specific agent, possibly Aβ seeds in the transfusate, transmitted CAA via the prion-like process of seeded Aβ aggregation. The researchers also found that the risk of ICH was increased in recipients of blood from donors who later developed both a single spontaneous ICH and dementia. Since most dementia is due to Alzheimer's disease (and nearly half of all Alzheimer patients have moderate to severe CAA) this finding further supports Aβ seeding as a potential causative mechanism.

    However, neither Alzheimer's disease nor CAA per se could be meaningfully assessed in the donors or recipients, so the factor(s) driving the heightened risk of ICH remain unknown. Proteopathic seeding certainly is a contender; the prion-like properties of Aβ are well-established, and CAA has been shown to be inducible in animal models by blood-borne Aβ seeds. The relatively rapid appearance of ICH in recipients, however, is inconsistent with seeded cerebral β-amyloidosis, which generally takes many years or decades to reveal itself in humans. Clearly, more definitive research is needed to rule seeded CAA (and other possible mechanisms) in or out.

    In this regard, more detailed information on both the donors and recipients would be helpful, but humans are complex and heterogeneous research subjects for which potentially relevant data may never be accessible. Here, controlled, systematic research in animal models can be informative. For instance, what role might the age of donors alone (or the senescence profile of their vasculature) influence the risk of intracerebral hemorrhage in recipients? Research on mice has found that substances in blood can rejuvenate the aging brain (Park et al., 2023; Schroer et al., 2023; Villeda et al., 2014), including the cerebral vasculature (Katsimpardi et al., 2014). Vice versa, a single exchange of blood from aged mice induces signs of premature senescence in young mice (Jeon et al., 2022). Thus, perhaps rather than Aβ seeds, the blood of subjects with multiple ICHs includes other agents that compromise the vasculature of recipients, e.g., by accelerating the aging of vascular cells.

    In any case, the results of this impressive and provocative study raise important questions that will stimulate necessary research on the mechanisms underlying vascular aging, including the development of cerebral amyloid angiopathy. They also underscore the importance of understanding as fully as possible factors in blood that might undermine the considerable benefits of transfusion.


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    View all comments by Lary Walker
  2. These findings are intriguing, although there are some methodological limitations which mean that interpretation is challenging. First, the authors did not directly assess cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA) as an exposure, but instead used recurrent ICH as a proxy for CAA in the donor cohort. CAA only accounts for a proportion of ICH (likely around one in four overall, but a higher proportion of lobar ICH), and recurrent ICH is not limited to people with CAA. This makes it difficult to know the type(s) of underlying small vessel disease the blood donor cohort had. The same limitation (lack of knowledge of the underlying cause of ICH) applies to recipients of transfusions who subsequently had ICH.

    Second, the follow-up period to detect the risk of ICH in blood recipients was much lower than the typical latency described for iatrogenic CAA associated with previous potential Aβ exposure, typically several decades. Whether and how transmission of Aβ might occur within a shorter time from exposure remains unclear, with no obvious alternative plausible transmissible agent to explain the findings.

    Third, the number of outcome events was small, limiting statistical power and precision. Fourth, blood transfusion recipients may not be representative of the general spontaneous ICH population, as they will likely have had blood transfusion for an underlying condition or procedure (e.g., diseases associated with anemia, trauma, or surgery). Nevertheless, these hypothesis-generating data should stimulate further research into possible transmissible factors associated with cerebral CAA.

    View all comments by David Werring
  3. This is such an interesting article! It is known that neurodegeneration-related proteins, including Aβ, tau, α-synuclein, and TDP-43, have some prion-like characteristics in vitro and in some in vivo models, although they appear less infective and less aggressive. Their transmissible capacity in humans has been debated a lot, with little solid evidence except for prion disease.

    I find this paper highly intriguing, and the results suggest that there may be something transmissible in the blood increasing the risk of cerebrovascular disease if a person receives blood from a donor with angiopathy. As cerebral amyloid angiopathy appears to be a common cause of multiple ICH, Aβ could well be the agent, but this has not been proven yet. If it is, its "infectivity" is probably weak, if it is mainly seen in a disease where there is a direct contact between the carrier (blood) and the tissue that gets affected (the cerebrovasculature). 

    Nevertheless, we should now carefully look into the potential transmissibility of other neurodegenerative proteinopathies as well. This paper discusses the topic in detail: Lauwers et al., 2020.


    . Potential human transmission of amyloid β pathology: surveillance and risks. Lancet Neurol. 2020 Oct;19(10):872-878. Epub 2020 Sep 16 PubMed.

    View all comments by Henrik Zetterberg
  4. This study of more than a million transfusion recipients sends us a warning signal of what might be in store. Several years ago we (Alnakhli et al., 2020) published a similar finding on 184 persons with death certificates from the 2,940-person cohort of Australian cadaveric pituitary hormone recipients. Clearly, further studies on blood transfusion recipients are warranted. 

    A first step would be a look back on the prevalence of preclinical AD in the routine blood donor/recipient populations in relation to subsequent ICH, something easily achieved with the development of high-performance plasma Aβ/p-tau assays.


    . Intra-cerebral haemorrhage but not neurodegenerative disease appears over-represented in deaths of Australian cadaveric pituitary hormone recipients. J Clin Neurosci. 2020 Nov;81:78-82. Epub 2020 Sep 29 PubMed. Correction.

    View all comments by Colin Masters

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