Case series/case reports (Indigo)
In this post-mortem case series recently published in Lancet Neurology, the authors investigated the brain tissue of patients who died from COVID-19 for glial responses, inflammatory changes, and the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the central nervous system. Neuropathological features in the brains of patients who died between March 13 and April 24, 2020, in Hamburg, Germany were investigated. Inclusion criteria comprised a positive test for SARS-CoV-2 by quantitative RT-PCR (qRT-PCR) and availability of adequate samples. The authors performed a neuropathological workup including histological staining and immunohistochemical staining for activated astrocytes, activated microglia, and cytotoxic T lymphocytes in the olfactory bulb, basal ganglia, brainstem, and cerebellum. Additionally, they investigated the presence and localisation of SARS-CoV-2 by qRT-PCR and by immunohistochemistry in selected patients and brain regions. 43 patients were included in the study. Patients died in hospitals, nursing homes, or at home, and were aged between 51 years and 94 years (median 76 years [IQR 70–86]). Fresh territorial ischaemic lesions were detected in six (14%) patients. 37 (86%) patients had astrogliosis in all assessed regions. Activation of microglia and infiltration by cytotoxic T lymphocytes was most pronounced in the brainstem and cerebellum, and meningeal cytotoxic T lymphocyte infiltration was seen in 34 (79%) patients. SARS-CoV-2 could be detected in the brains of 21 (53%) of 40 examined patients, with SARS-CoV-2 viral proteins found in cranial nerves originating from the lower brainstem and in isolated cells of the brainstem. The presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the CNS was not associated with the severity of neuropathological changes. The authors concluded that, in general, neuropathological changes in patients with COVID-19 seem to be mild, with pronounced neuroinflammatory changes in the brainstem being the most common finding. There was no evidence for CNS damage directly caused by SARS-CoV-2. Moreover, the generalisability of these findings needs to be validated in future studies as the number of cases and availability of clinical data were low and no age-matched and sex-matched controls were included.