Publication date: Apr 27, 2020
Objective: To study the pathological changes of the spleen in patients with COVID-19 and to analyze the relationship between the weakened immune system and splenic lesions. Methods: Minimally invasive autopsies from the spleen were carried out on 10 patients who died from COVID-19 in Wuhan. Routine hematoxylin and eosin (HE) staining was used to observe the pathological changes. The changes of lymphocytes were studied further with immunohistochemistry.RT-PCR was used to detect 2019-nCov RNA in the spleen. In addition, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) was detected by in situ hybridization, and coronavirus particles were detected by transmission electron microscopy in 2 cases. Results: There were 7 males and 3 females, with an average age of 68.3 years. Of the 10 cases, 4 had cancer history and another 4 had other underlying diseases respectively. Cough, fever, malaise and dyspnea were the main clinical symptoms. The time from onset to death was 15-45 days. 10 cases patients had normal or slight increase in peripheral blood leukocyte count in the early stage of the disease, 6 cases had significant increase before death. Five patients’ peripheral blood lymphocyte count decreased in the early stage of the disease, and 10 patients’ peripheral blood lymphocyte count decreased significantly before the disease progressed or died. Seven cases were treated with corticosteroid (methylprednisolone ?40 mg/d, not more than 5 days). Histopathological examination showed that the cell composition of the spleen decreased, white pulp atrophied at different levels, meanwhile lymphoid follicles decreased or absent; in addition, the ratio of red pulp to white pulp increased with varying degrees. In 7 cases, more neutrophil infiltration was found, and in 5 cases, scattered plasma cell infiltration was found. Macrophage proliferation and hemophagocytic phenomena in a few cells were found in a case. Meanwhile, necrosis and lymphocytic apoptosis were detected in 2 cases, small artery thrombosis and spleen infarction in 1 case, and fungal infection in 1 case. The results of immunohistochemistry showed that the T and B lymphocyte components of the spleen in all cases decreased in varying degrees. CD20(+)B cells were found to accumulate in the lymphoid sheath around the splenic artery in 8 cases. However, CD20 and CD21 immunostaining in 2 cases showed that the number of white pulp was almost normal, and splenic nodules were atrophic. CD3(+), CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells were decreased. In 9 cases,CD68+ macrophages were no significant changes in the distribution and quantity. While more CD68+ cells were found in the medullary sinuses of 1 case (related to fungal infection). Few CD56(+) cells were found. EBV was negative by in situ hybridization. RT-PCR was used to detect the nucleic acid of 2019-nCov virus. One of 10 cases was positive, 39 years old, who was the youngest patient in this group, and the other 9 cases were negative. Coronavirus particles were found in the cytoplasm of macrophage under electron microscope in 2 cases. Conclusion: The death of COVID-19 occursmainly in the elderly, and some cases have no underlying diseases. Spleen maybe one of the organs directly attacked by the virus in some patients who died from COVID-19. T and B lymphocyte in the spleen decrease in varying degrees, lymphoid follicles are atrophied, decreased or absent, and the number of NK cells do not change significantly. And the pathological changes of the spleen are not related to the use of low dose corticosteroid, which may be related to the direct attack of virus and the attack of immune system on its own tissues.