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      Megakaryocytes and platelet-fibrin thrombi characterize multi-organ thrombosis at autopsy in COVID-19: A case series

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          Abstract

          Background

          There is increasing recognition of a prothrombotic state in COVID-19. Post-mortem examination can provide important mechanistic insights.

          Methods

          We present a COVID-19 autopsy series including findings in lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, and bone, from a New York academic medical center.

          Findings

          In seven patients (four female), regardless of anticoagulation status, all autopsies demonstrated platelet-rich thrombi in the pulmonary, hepatic, renal, and cardiac microvasculature. Megakaryocytes were seen in higher than usual numbers in the lungs and heart. Two cases had thrombi in the large pulmonary arteries, where casts conformed to the anatomic location. Thrombi in the IVC were not found, but the deep leg veins were not dissected. Two cases had cardiac venous thrombosis with one case exhibiting septal myocardial infarction associated with intramyocardial venous thrombosis, without atherosclerosis. One case had focal acute lymphocyte-predominant inflammation in the myocardium with no virions found in cardiomyocytes. Otherwise, cardiac histopathological changes were limited to minimal epicardial inflammation ( n = 1), early ischemic injury ( n = 3), and mural fibrin thrombi ( n = 2). Platelet-rich peri‑tubular fibrin microthrombi were a prominent renal feature. Acute tubular necrosis, and red blood cell and granular casts were seen in multiple cases. Significant glomerular pathology was notably absent. Numerous platelet-fibrin microthrombi were identified in hepatic sinusoids. All lungs exhibited diffuse alveolar damage (DAD) with a spectrum of exudative and proliferative phases including hyaline membranes, and pneumocyte hyperplasia, with viral inclusions in epithelial cells and macrophages. Three cases had superimposed acute bronchopneumonia, focally necrotizing.

          Interpretation

          In this series of seven COVID-19 autopsies, thrombosis was a prominent feature in multiple organs, in some cases despite full anticoagulation and regardless of timing of the disease course, suggesting that thrombosis plays a role very early in the disease process. The finding of megakaryocytes and platelet-rich thrombi in the lungs, heart and kidneys suggests a role in thrombosis.

          Funding

          None.

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          Most cited references 38

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          Clinical Characteristics of 138 Hospitalized Patients With 2019 Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia in Wuhan, China

          In December 2019, novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)-infected pneumonia (NCIP) occurred in Wuhan, China. The number of cases has increased rapidly but information on the clinical characteristics of affected patients is limited.
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            Endothelial cell infection and endotheliitis in COVID-19

            Cardiovascular complications are rapidly emerging as a key threat in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in addition to respiratory disease. The mechanisms underlying the disproportionate effect of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection on patients with cardiovascular comorbidities, however, remain incompletely understood.1, 2 SARS-CoV-2 infects the host using the angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor, which is expressed in several organs, including the lung, heart, kidney, and intestine. ACE2 receptors are also expressed by endothelial cells. 3 Whether vascular derangements in COVID-19 are due to endothelial cell involvement by the virus is currently unknown. Intriguingly, SARS-CoV-2 can directly infect engineered human blood vessel organoids in vitro. 4 Here we demonstrate endothelial cell involvement across vascular beds of different organs in a series of patients with COVID-19 (further case details are provided in the appendix). Patient 1 was a male renal transplant recipient, aged 71 years, with coronary artery disease and arterial hypertension. The patient's condition deteriorated following COVID-19 diagnosis, and he required mechanical ventilation. Multisystem organ failure occurred, and the patient died on day 8. Post-mortem analysis of the transplanted kidney by electron microscopy revealed viral inclusion structures in endothelial cells (figure A, B ). In histological analyses, we found an accumulation of inflammatory cells associated with endothelium, as well as apoptotic bodies, in the heart, the small bowel (figure C) and lung (figure D). An accumulation of mononuclear cells was found in the lung, and most small lung vessels appeared congested. Figure Pathology of endothelial cell dysfunction in COVID-19 (A, B) Electron microscopy of kidney tissue shows viral inclusion bodies in a peritubular space and viral particles in endothelial cells of the glomerular capillary loops. Aggregates of viral particles (arrow) appear with dense circular surface and lucid centre. The asterisk in panel B marks peritubular space consistent with capillary containing viral particles. The inset in panel B shows the glomerular basement membrane with endothelial cell and a viral particle (arrow; about 150 nm in diameter). (C) Small bowel resection specimen of patient 3, stained with haematoxylin and eosin. Arrows point to dominant mononuclear cell infiltrates within the intima along the lumen of many vessels. The inset of panel C shows an immunohistochemical staining of caspase 3 in small bowel specimens from serial section of tissue described in panel D. Staining patterns were consistent with apoptosis of endothelial cells and mononuclear cells observed in the haematoxylin-eosin-stained sections, indicating that apoptosis is induced in a substantial proportion of these cells. (D) Post-mortem lung specimen stained with haematoxylin and eosin showed thickened lung septa, including a large arterial vessel with mononuclear and neutrophilic infiltration (arrow in upper inset). The lower inset shows an immunohistochemical staining of caspase 3 on the same lung specimen; these staining patterns were consistent with apoptosis of endothelial cells and mononuclear cells observed in the haematoxylin-eosin-stained sections. COVID-19=coronavirus disease 2019. Patient 2 was a woman, aged 58 years, with diabetes, arterial hypertension, and obesity. She developed progressive respiratory failure due to COVID-19 and subsequently developed multi-organ failure and needed renal replacement therapy. On day 16, mesenteric ischaemia prompted removal of necrotic small intestine. Circulatory failure occurred in the setting of right heart failure consequent to an ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction, and cardiac arrest resulted in death. Post-mortem histology revealed lymphocytic endotheliitis in lung, heart, kidney, and liver as well as liver cell necrosis. We found histological evidence of myocardial infarction but no sign of lymphocytic myocarditis. Histology of the small intestine showed endotheliitis (endothelialitis) of the submucosal vessels. Patient 3 was a man, aged 69 years, with hypertension who developed respiratory failure as a result of COVID-19 and required mechanical ventilation. Echocardiography showed reduced left ventricular ejection fraction. Circulatory collapse ensued with mesenteric ischaemia, and small intestine resection was performed, but the patient survived. Histology of the small intestine resection revealed prominent endotheliitis of the submucosal vessels and apoptotic bodies (figure C). We found evidence of direct viral infection of the endothelial cell and diffuse endothelial inflammation. Although the virus uses ACE2 receptor expressed by pneumocytes in the epithelial alveolar lining to infect the host, thereby causing lung injury, the ACE2 receptor is also widely expressed on endothelial cells, which traverse multiple organs. 3 Recruitment of immune cells, either by direct viral infection of the endothelium or immune-mediated, can result in widespread endothelial dysfunction associated with apoptosis (figure D). The vascular endothelium is an active paracrine, endocrine, and autocrine organ that is indispensable for the regulation of vascular tone and the maintenance of vascular homoeostasis. 5 Endothelial dysfunction is a principal determinant of microvascular dysfunction by shifting the vascular equilibrium towards more vasoconstriction with subsequent organ ischaemia, inflammation with associated tissue oedema, and a pro-coagulant state. 6 Our findings show the presence of viral elements within endothelial cells and an accumulation of inflammatory cells, with evidence of endothelial and inflammatory cell death. These findings suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infection facilitates the induction of endotheliitis in several organs as a direct consequence of viral involvement (as noted with presence of viral bodies) and of the host inflammatory response. In addition, induction of apoptosis and pyroptosis might have an important role in endothelial cell injury in patients with COVID-19. COVID-19-endotheliitis could explain the systemic impaired microcirculatory function in different vascular beds and their clinical sequelae in patients with COVID-19. This hypothesis provides a rationale for therapies to stabilise the endothelium while tackling viral replication, particularly with anti-inflammatory anti-cytokine drugs, ACE inhibitors, and statins.7, 8, 9, 10, 11 This strategy could be particularly relevant for vulnerable patients with pre-existing endothelial dysfunction, which is associated with male sex, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and established cardiovascular disease, all of which are associated with adverse outcomes in COVID-19.
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              Incidence of thrombotic complications in critically ill ICU patients with COVID-19

              Introduction COVID-19 may predispose to both venous and arterial thromboembolism due to excessive inflammation, hypoxia, immobilisation and diffuse intravascular coagulation. Reports on the incidence of thrombotic complications are however not available. Methods We evaluated the incidence of the composite outcome of symptomatic acute pulmonary embolism (PE), deep-vein thrombosis, ischemic stroke, myocardial infarction or systemic arterial embolism in all COVID-19 patients admitted to the ICU of 2 Dutch university hospitals and 1 Dutch teaching hospital. Results We studied 184 ICU patients with proven COVID-19 pneumonia of whom 23 died (13%), 22 were discharged alive (12%) and 139 (76%) were still on the ICU on April 5th 2020. All patients received at least standard doses thromboprophylaxis. The cumulative incidence of the composite outcome was 31% (95%CI 20-41), of which CTPA and/or ultrasonography confirmed VTE in 27% (95%CI 17-37%) and arterial thrombotic events in 3.7% (95%CI 0-8.2%). PE was the most frequent thrombotic complication (n = 25, 81%). Age (adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) 1.05/per year, 95%CI 1.004-1.01) and coagulopathy, defined as spontaneous prolongation of the prothrombin time > 3 s or activated partial thromboplastin time > 5 s (aHR 4.1, 95%CI 1.9-9.1), were independent predictors of thrombotic complications. Conclusion The 31% incidence of thrombotic complications in ICU patients with COVID-19 infections is remarkably high. Our findings reinforce the recommendation to strictly apply pharmacological thrombosis prophylaxis in all COVID-19 patients admitted to the ICU, and are strongly suggestive of increasing the prophylaxis towards high-prophylactic doses, even in the absence of randomized evidence.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                EClinicalMedicine
                EClinicalMedicine
                EClinicalMedicine
                Published by Elsevier Ltd.
                2589-5370
                25 June 2020
                25 June 2020
                Affiliations
                [a ]NYU Winthrop Hospital, Chair and Autopsy Director, Department of Pathology, Long Island School of Medicine, 222 Station Plaza North, Suite 618, Mineola, NY, 11501, United States
                [b ]New York University Grossman School of Medicine, New York, NY, United States
                [c ]Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, United States
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author. Rapkia01@ 123456nyumc.org
                Article
                S2589-5370(20)30178-4 100434
                10.1016/j.eclinm.2020.100434
                7316051
                © 2020 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

                Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active.

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