Brainstem neuropathology in two cases of COVID-19: SARS-CoV-2 trafficking between brain and lung | SpringerLink
- Gaetano Bulfamante,
- Tommaso Bocci,
- Monica Falleni,
- Laura Campiglio,
- Silvia Coppola,
- Delfina Tosi,
- Davide Chiumello &
- Alberto Priori
SARS-CoV-2 might spread through the nervous system, reaching respiratory centers in the brainstem.
Because we recently reported neurophysiological brainstem reflex abnormalities in COVID-19 patients, we here neuropathologically assessed structural brainstem damage in two COVID-19 patients.
Materials and methods
We assessed neuropathological features in two patients who died of COVID-19 and in two COVID-19 negative patients as controls. Neuronal damage and corpora amylacea (CA) numbers /mm2 were histopathologically assessed. Other features studied were the immunohistochemical expression of the SARS-CoV-2 nucleoprotein (NP) and the Iba-1 antigen for glial activation.
Autopsies showed normal gross brainstem anatomy. Histopathological examination demonstrated increased neuronal and CA damage in Covid-19 patients’ medulla oblongata.
Immunohistochemistry disclosed SARS-CoV-2 NP in brainstem neurons and glial cells, and in cranial nerves.
Glial elements also exhibited a widespread increase in Iba-1 expression. Sars-Co-V2 was immunohistochemically detected in the vagus nerve fibers.
Neuropathologic evidence showing SARS-CoV-2 in the brainstem and medullary damage in the area of respiratory centers strongly suggests that the pathophysiology of COVID-19-related respiratory failure includes a neurogenic component.
Sars-Co-V2 detection in the vagus nerve, argues for viral trafficking between brainstem and lung.