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      Postmortem examination of COVID‐19 patients reveals diffuse alveolar damage with severe capillary congestion and variegated findings in lungs and other organs suggesting vascular dysfunction

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          Abstract

          Aims

          Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS‐CoV‐2), has rapidly evolved into a sweeping pandemic. Its major manifestation is in the respiratory tract, and the general extent of organ involvement and the microscopic changes in the lungs remain insufficiently characterised. Autopsies are essential to elucidate COVID‐19‐associated organ alterations.

          Methods and results

          This article reports the autopsy findings of 21 COVID‐19 patients hospitalised at the University Hospital Basel and at the Cantonal Hospital Baselland, Switzerland. An in‐corpore technique was performed to ensure optimal staff safety. The primary cause of death was respiratory failure with exudative diffuse alveolar damage and massive capillary congestion, often accompanied by microthrombi despite anticoagulation. Ten cases showed superimposed bronchopneumonia. Further findings included pulmonary embolism ( n = 4), alveolar haemorrhage ( n = 3), and vasculitis ( n = 1). Pathologies in other organ systems were predominantly attributable to shock; three patients showed signs of generalised and five of pulmonary thrombotic microangiopathy. Six patients were diagnosed with senile cardiac amyloidosis upon autopsy. Most patients suffered from one or more comorbidities (hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes mellitus). Additionally, there was an overall predominance of males and individuals with blood group A (81% and 65%, respectively). All relevant histological slides are linked as open‐source scans in supplementary files.

          Conclusions

          This study provides an overview of postmortem findings in COVID‐19 cases, implying that hypertensive, elderly, obese, male individuals with severe cardiovascular comorbidities as well as those with blood group A may have a lower threshold of tolerance for COVID‐19. This provides a pathophysiological explanation for higher mortality rates among these patients.

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          Most cited references42

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          Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China

          Summary Background A recent cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China, was caused by a novel betacoronavirus, the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). We report the epidemiological, clinical, laboratory, and radiological characteristics and treatment and clinical outcomes of these patients. Methods All patients with suspected 2019-nCoV were admitted to a designated hospital in Wuhan. We prospectively collected and analysed data on patients with laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV infection by real-time RT-PCR and next-generation sequencing. Data were obtained with standardised data collection forms shared by WHO and the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium from electronic medical records. Researchers also directly communicated with patients or their families to ascertain epidemiological and symptom data. Outcomes were also compared between patients who had been admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) and those who had not. Findings By Jan 2, 2020, 41 admitted hospital patients had been identified as having laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV infection. Most of the infected patients were men (30 [73%] of 41); less than half had underlying diseases (13 [32%]), including diabetes (eight [20%]), hypertension (six [15%]), and cardiovascular disease (six [15%]). Median age was 49·0 years (IQR 41·0–58·0). 27 (66%) of 41 patients had been exposed to Huanan seafood market. One family cluster was found. Common symptoms at onset of illness were fever (40 [98%] of 41 patients), cough (31 [76%]), and myalgia or fatigue (18 [44%]); less common symptoms were sputum production (11 [28%] of 39), headache (three [8%] of 38), haemoptysis (two [5%] of 39), and diarrhoea (one [3%] of 38). Dyspnoea developed in 22 (55%) of 40 patients (median time from illness onset to dyspnoea 8·0 days [IQR 5·0–13·0]). 26 (63%) of 41 patients had lymphopenia. All 41 patients had pneumonia with abnormal findings on chest CT. Complications included acute respiratory distress syndrome (12 [29%]), RNAaemia (six [15%]), acute cardiac injury (five [12%]) and secondary infection (four [10%]). 13 (32%) patients were admitted to an ICU and six (15%) died. Compared with non-ICU patients, ICU patients had higher plasma levels of IL2, IL7, IL10, GSCF, IP10, MCP1, MIP1A, and TNFα. Interpretation The 2019-nCoV infection caused clusters of severe respiratory illness similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus and was associated with ICU admission and high mortality. Major gaps in our knowledge of the origin, epidemiology, duration of human transmission, and clinical spectrum of disease need fulfilment by future studies. Funding Ministry of Science and Technology, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, National Natural Science Foundation of China, and Beijing Municipal Science and Technology Commission.
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            SARS-CoV-2 Cell Entry Depends on ACE2 and TMPRSS2 and Is Blocked by a Clinically Proven Protease Inhibitor

            Summary The recent emergence of the novel, pathogenic SARS-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in China and its rapid national and international spread pose a global health emergency. Cell entry of coronaviruses depends on binding of the viral spike (S) proteins to cellular receptors and on S protein priming by host cell proteases. Unravelling which cellular factors are used by SARS-CoV-2 for entry might provide insights into viral transmission and reveal therapeutic targets. Here, we demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 uses the SARS-CoV receptor ACE2 for entry and the serine protease TMPRSS2 for S protein priming. A TMPRSS2 inhibitor approved for clinical use blocked entry and might constitute a treatment option. Finally, we show that the sera from convalescent SARS patients cross-neutralized SARS-2-S-driven entry. Our results reveal important commonalities between SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV infection and identify a potential target for antiviral intervention.
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              Pathological findings of COVID-19 associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome

              Since late December, 2019, an outbreak of a novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19; previously known as 2019-nCoV)1, 2 was reported in Wuhan, China, 2 which has subsequently affected 26 countries worldwide. In general, COVID-19 is an acute resolved disease but it can also be deadly, with a 2% case fatality rate. Severe disease onset might result in death due to massive alveolar damage and progressive respiratory failure.2, 3 As of Feb 15, about 66 580 cases have been confirmed and over 1524 deaths. However, no pathology has been reported due to barely accessible autopsy or biopsy.2, 3 Here, we investigated the pathological characteristics of a patient who died from severe infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) by postmortem biopsies. This study is in accordance with regulations issued by the National Health Commission of China and the Helsinki Declaration. Our findings will facilitate understanding of the pathogenesis of COVID-19 and improve clinical strategies against the disease. A 50-year-old man was admitted to a fever clinic on Jan 21, 2020, with symptoms of fever, chills, cough, fatigue and shortness of breath. He reported a travel history to Wuhan Jan 8–12, and that he had initial symptoms of mild chills and dry cough on Jan 14 (day 1 of illness) but did not see a doctor and kept working until Jan 21 (figure 1 ). Chest x-ray showed multiple patchy shadows in both lungs (appendix p 2), and a throat swab sample was taken. On Jan 22 (day 9 of illness), the Beijing Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed by reverse real-time PCR assay that the patient had COVID-19. Figure 1 Timeline of disease course according to days from initial presentation of illness and days from hospital admission, from Jan 8–27, 2020 SARS-CoV-2=severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. He was immediately admitted to the isolation ward and received supplemental oxygen through a face mask. He was given interferon alfa-2b (5 million units twice daily, atomisation inhalation) and lopinavir plus ritonavir (500 mg twice daily, orally) as antiviral therapy, and moxifloxacin (0·4 g once daily, intravenously) to prevent secondary infection. Given the serious shortness of breath and hypoxaemia, methylprednisolone (80 mg twice daily, intravenously) was administered to attenuate lung inflammation. Laboratory tests results are listed in the appendix (p 4). After receiving medication, his body temperature reduced from 39·0 to 36·4 °C. However, his cough, dyspnoea, and fatigue did not improve. On day 12 of illness, after initial presentation, chest x-ray showed progressive infiltrate and diffuse gridding shadow in both lungs. He refused ventilator support in the intensive care unit repeatedly because he suffered from claustrophobia; therefore, he received high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) oxygen therapy (60% concentration, flow rate 40 L/min). On day 13 of illness, the patient's symptoms had still not improved, but oxygen saturation remained above 95%. In the afternoon of day 14 of illness, his hypoxaemia and shortness of breath worsened. Despite receiving HFNC oxygen therapy (100% concentration, flow rate 40 L/min), oxygen saturation values decreased to 60%, and the patient had sudden cardiac arrest. He was immediately given invasive ventilation, chest compression, and adrenaline injection. Unfortunately, the rescue was not successful, and he died at 18:31 (Beijing time). Biopsy samples were taken from lung, liver, and heart tissue of the patient. Histological examination showed bilateral diffuse alveolar damage with cellular fibromyxoid exudates (figure 2A, B ). The right lung showed evident desquamation of pneumocytes and hyaline membrane formation, indicating acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS; figure 2A). The left lung tissue displayed pulmonary oedema with hyaline membrane formation, suggestive of early-phase ARDS (figure 2B). Interstitial mononuclear inflammatory infiltrates, dominated by lymphocytes, were seen in both lungs. Multinucleated syncytial cells with atypical enlarged pneumocytes characterised by large nuclei, amphophilic granular cytoplasm, and prominent nucleoli were identified in the intra-alveolar spaces, showing viral cytopathic-like changes. No obvious intranuclear or intracytoplasmic viral inclusions were identified. Figure 2 Pathological manifestations of right (A) and left (B) lung tissue, liver tissue (C), and heart tissue (D) in a patient with severe pneumonia caused by SARS-CoV-2 SARS-CoV-2=severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The pathological features of COVID-19 greatly resemble those seen in SARS and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus infection.4, 5 In addition, the liver biopsy specimens of the patient with COVID-19 showed moderate microvesicular steatosis and mild lobular and portal activity (figure 2C), indicating the injury could have been caused by either SARS-CoV-2 infection or drug-induced liver injury. There were a few interstitial mononuclear inflammatory infiltrates, but no other substantial damage in the heart tissue (figure 2D). Peripheral blood was prepared for flow cytometric analysis. We found that the counts of peripheral CD4 and CD8 T cells were substantially reduced, while their status was hyperactivated, as evidenced by the high proportions of HLA-DR (CD4 3·47%) and CD38 (CD8 39·4%) double-positive fractions (appendix p 3). Moreover, there was an increased concentration of highly proinflammatory CCR6+ Th17 in CD4 T cells (appendix p 3). Additionally, CD8 T cells were found to harbour high concentrations of cytotoxic granules, in which 31·6% cells were perforin positive, 64·2% cells were granulysin positive, and 30·5% cells were granulysin and perforin double-positive (appendix p 3). Our results imply that overactivation of T cells, manifested by increase of Th17 and high cytotoxicity of CD8 T cells, accounts for, in part, the severe immune injury in this patient. X-ray images showed rapid progression of pneumonia and some differences between the left and right lung. In addition, the liver tissue showed moderate microvesicular steatosis and mild lobular activity, but there was no conclusive evidence to support SARS-CoV-2 infection or drug-induced liver injury as the cause. There were no obvious histological changes seen in heart tissue, suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 infection might not directly impair the heart. Although corticosteroid treatment is not routinely recommended to be used for SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia, 1 according to our pathological findings of pulmonary oedema and hyaline membrane formation, timely and appropriate use of corticosteroids together with ventilator support should be considered for the severe patients to prevent ARDS development. Lymphopenia is a common feature in the patients with COVID-19 and might be a critical factor associated with disease severity and mortality. 3 Our clinical and pathological findings in this severe case of COVID-19 can not only help to identify a cause of death, but also provide new insights into the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2-related pneumonia, which might help physicians to formulate a timely therapeutic strategy for similar severe patients and reduce mortality. This online publication has been corrected. The corrected version first appeared at thelancet.com/respiratory on February 25, 2020
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                alexandar.tzankov@usb.ch
                Journal
                Histopathology
                Histopathology
                10.1111/(ISSN)1365-2559
                HIS
                Histopathology
                John Wiley and Sons Inc. (Hoboken )
                0309-0167
                1365-2559
                05 July 2020
                August 2020
                : 77
                : 2 , The Histopathology of COVID‐19 ( doiID: 10.1111/his.v77.2 )
                : 198-209
                Affiliations
                [ 1 ] Pathology Institute of Medical Genetics and Pathology University Hospital Basel University of Basel Basel Switzerland
                [ 2 ] Institute of Pathology Cantonal Hospital Baselland Liestal Switzerland
                [ 3 ] Intensive Care Unit University Hospital Basel University of Basel Basel Switzerland
                [ 4 ] Division of Internal Medicine University Hospital Basel University of Basel Basel Switzerland
                [ 5 ] University Department of Medicine Cantonal Hospital Baselland Liestal Switzerland
                Author notes
                [*] [* ] Address for correspondence: Professor Dr med. A Tzankov, Institute of Pathology, Schönbeinstrasse 40, 4031 Basel, Switzerland. e‐mail: alexandar.tzankov@ 123456usb.ch

                Article
                HIS14134
                10.1111/his.14134
                7496150
                8596fbd2-dae5-4fbc-9eaa-23047bfc2f75
                © 2020 The Authors. Histopathology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd

                This is an open access article under the terms of the http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Page count
                Figures: 4, Tables: 2, Pages: 12, Words: 7242
                Product
                Categories
                Original Article
                Original Articles
                Custom metadata
                2.0
                August 2020
                Converter:WILEY_ML3GV2_TO_JATSPMC version:5.9.0 mode:remove_FC converted:11.09.2020

                Pathology

                autopsy, cardiovascular, lung, sars‐cov‐2, covid‐19, senile amyloidosis, kidney

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