COVID-19 Atlas of Tissue Damage and Viral Load in Organs

COVID-19 Atlas of Tissue Damage and Viral Load in Organs
COVID-19 Atlas of Tissue Damage and Viral Load in Organs


In the pandemic, which has lasted for more than a year, more than 100 million SARS-CoV-2 infections have been reported worldwide. Much has been achieved in biomedical and clinical research for COVID-19, but the underlying mechanisms of the disease remain poorly understood.

A research team in virology, microbiology, forensic medicine and pathology, as well as intensive care medicine and electron microscopy at the University of Jena Hospital examined the bodies of eleven patients who died of COVID-19.

They recorded the viral load of SARS-CoV-2 in a large number of organs and tissues and correlated the distribution of the virus with damage to existing tissues. They have already published their results in the online newspaper eLife. The study was funded by the Carl Zeiss Foundation.

General microbiological and histological image of COVID-19

The author Dr. said. Stephanie Denhardt Emer. “However, there are no adequate experimental models for studying COVID-19.”

In order to obtain a comprehensive picture of the disease in terms of microbiology and histology in the extremely severe course, the scientists performed autopsies on patients with COVID-19 a few hours after death. In this way, the lysis processes in the tissues and in the RNA of the virus can be minimized. For each patient, they documented the viral load of SARS-CoV-2, markers of inflammation and tissue damage in more than 60 samples in different organs. Using electron microscopy images, they were able to detect healthy viral particles in the lung tissue.

Tissue damage only in the lungs

As expected, scientists found viral RNA mainly in the lungs, and the tissue was also severely affected. “Interestingly, we have also detected SARS-CoV-2-RNA in many other tissues and organs, such as the digestive system, kidneys or heart vessels. But the virus attacked only the tissues of the lungs, ”said the forensic scientist and colleagues. Author Dr. Daniel Wichiber. The inflammation markers and the coagulation factors investigated were increased in all patients.

With their study, which for the first time comprehensively determines the viral load and tissue damage in COVID-19, Jena’s researchers confirm the systemic character of the disease. “The fact that only the lung tissue is damaged, but the virus is spreading throughout the body, supports the assumption that our immune system cannot react properly to the presence of the virus in the blood. This is the real problem with COVID-19, ”says Stephanie Denhardt – Commando.

»Original publication

Those: University of Jena

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