Clinicopathologic, Immunohistochemical, and Ultrastructural Findings of a Fatal Case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Infection in the United Arab Emirates, April 2014

Am J Pathol. 2016 Mar;186(3):652-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ajpath.2015.10.024. Epub 2016 Feb 5.


Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection causes an acute respiratory illness and is associated with a high case fatality rate; however, the pathogenesis of severe and fatal MERS-CoV infection is unknown. We describe the histopathologic, immunohistochemical, and ultrastructural findings from the first autopsy performed on a fatal case of MERS-CoV in the world, which was related to a hospital outbreak in the United Arab Emirates in April 2014. The main histopathologic finding in the lungs was diffuse alveolar damage. Evidence of chronic disease, including severe peripheral vascular disease, patchy cardiac fibrosis, and hepatic steatosis, was noted in the other organs. Double staining immunoassays that used anti-MERS-CoV antibodies paired with immunohistochemistry for cytokeratin and surfactant identified pneumocytes and epithelial syncytial cells as important targets of MERS-CoV antigen; double immunostaining with dipeptidyl peptidase 4 showed colocalization in scattered pneumocytes and syncytial cells. No evidence of extrapulmonary MERS-CoV antigens were detected, including the kidney. These results provide critical insights into the pathogenesis of MERS-CoV in humans.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Coronavirus Infections / pathology*
  • Dipeptidyl Peptidase 4 / immunology
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung / ultrastructure
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / genetics
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / immunology*
  • Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus / isolation & purification
  • Radiography
  • United Arab Emirates


  • Dipeptidyl Peptidase 4