BACKGROUND. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has become a pandemic. This study addresses the clinical and immunopathological characteristics of severe COVID-19. METHODS. Sixty-nine patients with COVID-19 were classified into severe and nonsevere groups to analyze their clinical and laboratory characteristics. A panel of blood cytokines was quantified over time. Biopsy specimens from 2 deceased cases were obtained for immunopathological, ultrastructural, and in situ hybridization examinations. RESULTS. Circulating cytokines, including IL-8, IL-6, TNF-α, IP10, MCP1, and RANTES, were significantly elevated in patients with severe COVID-19. Dynamic IL-6 and IL-8 were associated with disease progression. SARS-CoV-2 was demonstrated to infect type II and type I pneumocytes and endothelial cells, leading to severe lung damage through cell pyroptosis and apoptosis. In severe cases, lymphopenia, neutrophilia, depletion of CD4+ and CD8+ T lymphocytes, and massive macrophage and neutrophil infiltrates were observed in both blood and lung tissues. CONCLUSIONS. A panel of circulating cytokines could be used to predict disease deterioration and inform clinical interventions. Severe pulmonary damage was predominantly attributed to both cytopathy caused by SARS-CoV-2 and immunopathologic damage. Strategies that prohibit pulmonary recruitment and overactivation of inflammatory cells by suppressing cytokine storm might improve the outcomes of patients with severe COVID-19.


Shaohua Li, Lina Jiang, Xi Li, Fang Lin, Yijin Wang, Boan Li, Tianjun Jiang, Weimin An, Shuhong Liu, Hongyang Liu, Pengfei Xu, Lihua Zhao, Lixin Zhang, Jinsong Mu, Hongwei Wang, Jiarui Kang, Yan Li, Lei Huang, Caizhong Zhu, Shousong Zhao, Jiangyang Lu, Junsheng Ji, Jingmin Zhao


Download this citation for these citation managers:

Or, download this citation in these formats:

If you experience problems using these citation formats, send us feedback.