Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 2021; 25 (4): 2146-2151

DOI: 10.26355/eurrev_202102_25120

Liver infection and COVID-19: the electron microscopy proof and revision of the literature

M. Pirisi, C. Rigamonti, S. D’Alfonso, M. Nebuloni, D. Fanni, C. Gerosa, G. Orrù, E. Venanzi Rullo, P. Pavone, G. Faa, L. Saba, R. Boldorini

Department of Translational Medicine, Università del Piemonte Orientale, Novara, Italy. daniela.fanni@unica.it


OBJECTIVE: COVID‐19, the newly emerging infectious disease, has been associated with acute liver injury, often related to progression to severe pneumonia. The association between moderate-severe liver injury and more severe clinical course of COVID-19 has suggested that liver injury is prevalent in severe than in mild cases of COVID-19, while no difference in liver involvement has been reported between survivors and non-survivors. The spectrum of liver involvement during COVID-19 ranges from an asymptomatic elevation of liver enzymes to severe hepatitis. Only rarely, cases with acute hepatitis have been reported in the absence of respiratory symptoms. Both epithelial and biliary cells possess the angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 receptors that SARS-CoV-2 uses to be internalized. However, to our knowledge, no ultrastructural identification of the virus in liver cells has been reported to date. Here we provide evidence of SARS-CoV-2 in the liver of two patients, a 34-year-old woman and a 60-year-old man with COVID-19.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: We investigated two patients with COVID-19 showing several virions within cytoplasmic vacuoles of cholangiocytes and in endothelial cells of hepatic sinusoids. In both patients, we performed histological and ultrastructural examinations by liver biopsy. After two months, both patients were free of symptoms, and the SARS-CoV-2 infection had resolved.

RESULTS: Liver biopsy histological and ultrastructural examination showed liver injury and several virions within cytoplasmic vacuoles of cholangiocytes and in endothelial cells of hepatic sinusoids.

CONCLUSIONS: Although most studies in COVID-19 have been focused on the lungs, recently, cholestatic liver pathology has been introduced in the spectrum of pathological changes related to COVID-19. To the best of our knowledge, those presented in this paper are the first images of hepatic SARS-CoV-2 infected liver cells. Our findings suggest a role for cholangiocytes and biliary structures in the COVID-19.

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M. Pirisi, C. Rigamonti, S. D’Alfonso, M. Nebuloni, D. Fanni, C. Gerosa, G. Orrù, E. Venanzi Rullo, P. Pavone, G. Faa, L. Saba, R. Boldorini
Liver infection and COVID-19: the electron microscopy proof and revision of the literature

Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci
Year: 2021
Vol. 25 - N. 4
Pages: 2146-2151
DOI: 10.26355/eurrev_202102_25120