Testicular pathology in fatal COVID-19: A descriptive autopsy study

Andrology. 2022 Jan;10(1):13-23. doi: 10.1111/andr.13073. Epub 2021 Jul 16.


Background: Multi-organ damage is a common feature of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection, going beyond the initially observed severe pneumonia. Evidence that the testis is also compromised is growing.

Objective: To describe the pathological findings in testes from fatal cases of COVID-19, including the detection of viral particles and antigens, and inflammatory cell subsets.

Materials and methods: Postmortem testicular samples were obtained by percutaneous puncture from 11 deceased men and examined by reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for RNA detection and by light and electron microscopy (EM) for SARS-CoV-2. Immunohistochemistry (IHC) for the SARS-CoV-2 N-protein and lymphocytic and histiocytic markers was also performed.

Results: Eight patients had mild interstitial orchitis, composed mainly of CD68+ and TCD8+ cells. Fibrin thrombi were detected in five cases. All cases presented congestion, interstitial edema, thickening of the tubular basal membrane, decreased Leydig and Sertoli cells with reduced spermatogenesis, and strong expression of vascular cell adhesion molecule (VCAM) in vessels. IHC detected SARS-Cov-2 antigen in Leydig cells, Sertoli cells, spermatogonia, and fibroblasts in all cases. EM detected viral particles in the cytoplasm of fibroblasts, endothelium, Sertoli and Leydig cells, spermatids, and epithelial cells of the rete testis in four cases, while RT-PCR detected SARS-CoV-2 RNA in three cases.

Discussion and conclusion: The COVID-19-associated testicular lesion revealed a combination of orchitis, vascular changes, basal membrane thickening, Leydig and Sertoli cell scarcity, and reduced spermatogenesis associated with SARS-CoV-2 local infection that may impair hormonal function and fertility in men.

Keywords: COVID-19; Leydig cell; SARS-CoV-2; autopsy; orchitis; testis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Autopsy
  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orchitis / pathology*
  • Orchitis / virology*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Testis / pathology*