Pathological findings in the postmortem liver of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Hum Pathol. 2021 Mar;109:59-68. doi: 10.1016/j.humpath.2020.11.015. Epub 2020 Dec 8.

Abstract

Although coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is transmitted via respiratory droplets, there are multiple gastrointestinal and hepatic manifestations of the disease, including abnormal liver-associated enzymes. However, there are not many published articles on the pathological findings in the liver of patients with COVID-19. We collected the clinical data from 17 autopsy cases of patients with COVID-19 including age, sex, Body mass index (BMI), liver function test (alanine aminotransaminase (ALT), aspartate aminotransaminase (AST), alkaline phosphatase (ALP), direct bilirubin, and total bilirubin), D-dimer, and anticoagulation treatment. We examined histopathologic findings in postmortem hepatic tissue, immunohistochemical (IHC) staining with antibody against COVID-19 spike protein, CD68 and CD61, and electron microscopy. We counted the number of megakaryocytes in liver sections from these COVID-19-positive cases. Abnormal liver-associated enzymes were observed in 12 of 17 cases of COVID-19 infection. With the exception of three cases that had not been tested for D-dimer, all 14 patients' D-dimer levels were increased, including the cases that received varied doses of anticoagulation treatment. Microscopically, the major findings were widespread platelet-fibrin microthrombi, steatosis, histiocytic hyperplasia in the portal tract, mild lobular inflammation, ischemic-type hepatic necrosis, and zone 3 hemorrhage. Rare megakaryocytes were found in sinusoids. COVID-19 IHC demonstrates positive staining of the histiocytes in the portal tract. Under electron microscopy, histiocyte proliferation is present in the portal tract containing lipid droplets, lysosomes, dilated ribosomal endoplasmic reticulum, microvesicular bodies, and coronavirus. The characteristic findings in the liver of patients with COVID-19 include numerous amounts of platelet-fibrin microthrombi, as well as various degrees of steatosis and histiocytic hyperplasia in the portal tract. Possible mechanisms are also discussed.

Keywords: Autopsy; COVID-19; Histiocytic hyperplasia; Liver; Liver histopathology; Microthrombi; Steatosis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autopsy / methods
  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Fatty Liver / pathology
  • Fatty Liver / virology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver / virology*
  • Liver Diseases / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • SARS-CoV-2 / pathogenicity*
  • Thrombosis / pathology*
  • Thrombosis / virology