Bone marrow haematopoiesis in patients with COVID-19

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Aims: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus type 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection broadly affects organ homeostasis, including the haematopoietic system. Autopsy studies are a crucial tool for investigation of organ-specific pathologies. Here we perform an in-depth analysis of the impact of severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on bone marrow haematopoiesis in correlation with clinical and laboratory parameters. Methods and results: Twenty-eight autopsy cases and five controls from two academic centres were included in the study. We performed a comprehensive analysis of bone marrow pathology and microenvironment features with clinical and laboratory parameters and assessed SARS-CoV-2 infection of the bone marrow by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) analysis. In COVID-19 patients, bone marrow specimens showed a left-shifted myelopoiesis (19 of 28, 64%), increased myeloid–erythroid ratio (eight of 28, 28%), increased megakaryopoiesis (six of 28, 21%) and lymphocytosis (four of 28, 14%). Strikingly, a high proportion of COVID-19 specimens showed erythrophagocytosis (15 of 28, 54%) and the presence of siderophages (11 of 15, 73%) compared to control cases (none of five, 0%). Clinically, erythrophagocytosis correlated with lower haemoglobin levels and was more frequently observed in patients from the second wave. Analysis of the immune environment showed a strong increase in CD68+ macrophages (16 of 28, 57%) and a borderline lymphocytosis (five of 28, 18%). The stromal microenvironment showed oedema (two of 28, 7%) and severe capillary congestion (one of 28, 4%) in isolated cases. No stromal fibrosis or microvascular thrombosis was found. While all cases had confirmed positive testing of SARS-CoV-2 in the respiratory system, SARS-CoV-2 was not detected in the bone marrow by high-sensitivity PCR, suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 does not commonly replicate in the haematopoietic microenvironment. Conclusions: SARS-CoV-2 infection indirectly impacts the haematological compartment and the bone marrow immune environment. Erythrophagocytosis is frequent and associated with lower haemoglobin levels in patients with severe COVID-19.




Marques-Maggio, E., Maccio, U., Marx, A., Galli, S., Schwab, N., Frank, A., … Koelzer, V. H. (2023). Bone marrow haematopoiesis in patients with COVID-19. Histopathology, 83(4), 582–590.

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