Aberrant Fibrin Clot Structure Visualized Ex Vivo in Critically Ill Patients With Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Infection

Crit Care Med. 2022 Jun 1;50(6):e557-e568. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0000000000005465. Epub 2022 Feb 16.


Objectives: Disseminated fibrin-rich microthrombi have been reported in patients who died from COVID-19. Our objective is to determine whether the fibrin clot structure and function differ between critically ill patients with or without COVID-19 and to correlate the structure with clinical coagulation biomarkers.

Design: A cross-sectional observational study. Platelet poor plasma was used to analyze fibrin clot structure; the functional implications were determined by quantifying clot turbidity and porosity.

Setting: ICU at an academic medical center and an academic laboratory.

Patients: Patients admitted from July 1 to August 1, 2020, to the ICU with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infection confirmed by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction or patients admitted to the ICU with sepsis.

Interventions: None.

Measurements and main results: Blood was collected from 36 patients including 26 ICU patients with COVID-19 and 10 ICU patients with sepsis but without COVID-19 at a median of 11 days after ICU admission (interquartile range, 3-16). The cohorts were similar in age, gender, body mass index, comorbidities, Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score, and mortality. More patients with COVID-19 (100% vs 70%; p = 0.003) required anticoagulation. Ex vivo fibrin clots formed from patients with COVID-19 appeared to be denser and to have smaller pores than those from patients with sepsis but without COVID-19 (percent area of fluorescent fibrin 48.1% [SD, 16%] vs 24.9% [SD, 18.8%]; p = 0.049). The turbidity and flow-through assays corroborated these data; fibrin clots had a higher maximum turbidity in patients with COVID-19 compared with patients without COVID-19 (0.168 vs 0.089 OD units; p = 0.003), and it took longer for buffer to flow through these clots (216 vs 103 min; p = 0.003). In patients with COVID-19, d-dimer levels were positively correlated with percent area of fluorescent fibrin (ρ = 0.714, p = 0.047). Denser clots (assessed by turbidity and thromboelastography) and higher SOFA scores were independently associated with delayed clot lysis.

Conclusions: We found aberrant fibrin clot structure and function in critically ill patients with COVID-19. These findings may contribute to the poor outcomes observed in COVID-19 patients with widespread fibrin deposition.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Critical Illness
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Fibrin
  • Fibrinolysis
  • Humans
  • Sepsis*
  • Thromboembolism*
  • Thrombosis*


  • Fibrin