The hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) are rare disorders characterized by thrombocytopenia, hemolytic anemia, and ischemic organ failure due to thrombotic occlusions in arterioles. The recent observation that a von Willebrand factor-cleaving protease (VWF-CP) is low in the plasma of patients with TTP but normal in those with HUS has potentially offered a new specific tool for differential diagnosis. In this study, the authors evaluated the plasma levels of the VWF-CP during the neonatal state and healthy childhood and in some pathological pediatric conditions. The protease was measured in 16 healthy newborns, 20 healthy children aged 5-18 years, patients with diabetes mellitus type 1 (n = 7), acute viral hepatitis (n = 10), chronic viral hepatitis (n = 10), transfusion-dependent beta-thalassemia major (n = 10), acute varicella infection (n = 11), the nephrotic syndrome (n = 11), and familial Mediterranean fever (n = 10). Mean protease levels were significantly lower in newborns than in healthy children (50.5 +/- 16.1% vs. 83.3 +/- 16.3%) (p = .0001). In patients with acute viral hepatitis, protease levels were also significantly reduced (40.2 +/- 27% vs. 83.3 +/- 16.3% in healthy children) (p = .0001). Other patient groups had normal protease levels. In conclusion, low protease levels are far from being a specific beacon for TTP. The current paradigm that a single laboratory test may enable physicians to distinguish TTP from HUS seems to be challenged by these and other findings.