Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 2021; 25 (24): 7997-8003

DOI: 10.26355/eurrev_202112_27650

Scanning electron microscopy of lung disease due to COVID-19 – a case report and a review of the literature

T. Congiu, R. Demontis, F. Cau, M. Piras, D. Fanni, C. Gerosa, C. Botta, A. Scano, A. Chighine, E. Faedda, R. Cau, P. Van Eyken, F. Marongiu, D. Barcellona, L. Saba, G. Orrù, F. Coghe, J.S. Suri, G. Faa, E. d’Aloja

Department of Medical Sciences and Public Health, Electron Microscopy Laboratory, Division Pathological Anatomy, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy. monipiras@hotmail.com


OBJECTIVE: The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) showed similar characteristics with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). In the most compromised cases, COVID-19 infection leads to death due to severe respiratory complications. COVID-19-related acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is the primary cause of death in these patients. In the present study, we show an ultrastructural analysis on the lungs of a patient affected by COVID-19.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: Lung specimens obtained at autopsy from a 63-years old patient affected by COVID-19 were fixed in 1% paraformaldehyde. Slices of 300 µm thickness were dehydrated and dried by Critical Point Drying in CO2. Slices were covered with a conductive gold film approximately 30 nm thick and observed at a Zeiss Sigma 300 SEM FEG in the secondary electron (SE) and backscattered electron (BSE) modes. As case control a lung biopsy from a 60-year-old man was considered.

RESULTS: At low power in all COVID-19 lung specimens severe changes in the pulmonary architecture were found, due to the collapse of air spaces. Moreover, alveolar cavities were covered by large membranes. At high power, alveolar membranes showed a fibrillar structure, suggestive of a loose network of fibrin. It has been also found that intra-alveolar red blood cells were frequently present in the alveolar spaces, surrounded by a reticular fibrin network, suggestive for fibrin-hemorrhagic alveolitis. Alveolar changes were constantly associated with pathological features related to the pulmonary vessels. Vascular changes were prominent, including endothelial damage and thrombosis of large pulmonary vessels. Fibrinous microthrombi were frequently detected in the inter-alveolar septal capillaries. In addition, it has been frequently detected capillary proliferation in the alveolar septa with finding suggestive for intussusceptive neo-angiogenesis.

CONCLUSIONS: In conclusion, our electron microscopy analysis showed that COVID-19-related lung disease is characterized by a substantial architectural distortion, with the interactions between alveolar and vascular changes. Intra-alveolar hyaline membranes are associated with macro- and micro-thrombotic angiopathy, ending with capillary proliferation. The new blood vessel formation originates from the septa and extends into the surrounding parenchyma. Our findings confirm previous reports on the specificity of the multiple and complex morphological pattern typical, and apparently specific, of COVID-19-related lung disease.

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T. Congiu, R. Demontis, F. Cau, M. Piras, D. Fanni, C. Gerosa, C. Botta, A. Scano, A. Chighine, E. Faedda, R. Cau, P. Van Eyken, F. Marongiu, D. Barcellona, L. Saba, G. Orrù, F. Coghe, J.S. Suri, G. Faa, E. d’Aloja
Scanning electron microscopy of lung disease due to COVID-19 – a case report and a review of the literature

Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci
Year: 2021
Vol. 25 - N. 24
Pages: 7997-8003
DOI: 10.26355/eurrev_202112_27650