Native and transplant kidney histopathological manifestations in association with COVID-19 infection: A systematic review

World J Transplant. 2021 Nov 18;11(11):480-502. doi: 10.5500/wjt.v11.i11.480.


Background: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) can result in clinically significant multi-system disease including involvement in the kidney. The underlying histopathological processes were unknown at the start of the pandemic. As case reports and series have been published describing the underlying renal histopathology from kidney biopsies, we have started to gain an insight into the renal manifestations of this novel disease.

Aim: To provide an overview of the current literature on the renal histopathological features and mechanistic insights described in association with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection.

Methods: A systematic review was performed by conducting a literature search in the following websites-'PubMed', 'Web of Science', 'Embase' and 'Medline-ProQuest' with the following search terms-"COVID-19 AND kidney biopsy", "COVID-19 AND renal biopsy", "SARS-CoV-2 AND kidney biopsy" and "SARS-CoV-2 AND renal biopsy". We have included published data up until February 15, 2021, which includes kidney biopsies (native, transplant and postmortem) from patients with COVID-19. Data on clinical presentation, histopathological features, management and outcome was extracted from the reported studies.

Results: The total number of biopsies reported on here is 288, of which 189 are postmortem, 84 native and 15 transplants. The results are varied and show underlying pathologies ranging from collapsing glomerulopathy and acute tubular injury (ATI) to anti-nuclear cytoplasmic antibody associated vasculitis and pigment nephropathy. There was variation in the specific treatment used for the various renal conditions, which included steroids, hydroxychloroquine, eculizumab, convalescent plasma, rituximab, anakinra, cyclophosphamide and renal replacement therapy, amongst others. The pathological process which occurs in the kidney following COVID-19 infection and leads to the described biopsy findings has been hypothesized in some conditions but not others (for example, sepsis related hypoperfusion for ATI). It is important to note that this represents a very small minority of the total number of cases of COVID-19 related kidney disease, and as such there may be inherent selection bias in the results described. Further work will be required to determine the pathogenetic link, if any, between COVID-19 and the other renal pathologies.

Conclusion: This report has clinical relevance as certain renal pathologies have specific management, with the implication that kidney biopsy in the setting of renal disease and COVID-19 should be an early consideration, dependent upon the clinical presentation.

Keywords: COVID-19; Histopathology; Kidney biopsy; SARS-CoV-2; Transplant.