Multisystem screening reveals SARS-CoV-2 in neurons of the myenteric plexus and in megakaryocytes.
Gray-Rodriguez S., Jensen MP., Otero-Jimenez M., Hanley B., Swann OC., Ward PA., Salguero FJ., Querido N., Farkas I., Velentza-Almpani E., Weir J., Barclay WS., Carroll MW., Jaunmuktane Z., Brandner S., Pohl U., Allinson K., Thom M., Troakes C., Al-Sarraj S., Sastre M., Gveric D., Gentleman S., Roufosse C., Osborn M., Alegre-Abarrategui J.
SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19, typically manifests as a respiratory illness although extrapulmonary involvement, such as in the gastrointestinal tract and nervous system, as well as frequent thrombotic events, are increasingly recognised. How this maps onto SARS-CoV-2 organ tropism at the histological level, however, remains unclear. Here, we perform a comprehensive validation of a monoclonal antibody against the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein (NP) followed by systematic multisystem organ immunohistochemistry analysis of the viral cellular tropism in tissue from 36 patients, 16 post-mortem cases and 16 biopsies with polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 status from the peaks of the pandemic in 2020 and four pre-COVID post-mortem controls. SARS-CoV-2 anti-NP staining in the post-mortem cases revealed broad multiorgan involvement of the respiratory, digestive, haematopoietic, genitourinary and nervous systems, with a typical pattern of staining characterised by punctate paranuclear and apical cytoplasmic labelling. The average time from symptom onset to time of death was shorter in positively versus negatively stained post-mortem cases (mean = 10.3 days versus mean = 20.3 days, p = 0.0416, with no cases showing definitive staining if the interval exceeded 15 days). One striking finding was the widespread presence of SARS-CoV-2 NP in neurons of the myenteric plexus, a site of high ACE-2 expression, the entry receptor for SARS-CoV-2, and one of the earliest affected cells in Parkinson's disease. In the bone marrow, we observed viral SARS-CoV-2 NP within megakaryocytes, key cells in platelet production and thrombus formation. In 15 tracheal biopsies performed in patients requiring ventilation, there was a near complete concordance between immunohistochemistry and PCR swab results. Going forward, our findings have relevance to correlating clinical symptoms to the organ tropism of SARS-CoV-2 in contemporary cases as well as providing insights into potential long-term complications of COVID-19. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.