Evolution of pathological findings in surveillance biopsies of lung transplant recipients infected with SARS-CoV-2

Alexander N. Wein, Jing Liu, Chieh Yu Lin

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Background: Previous reports of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) following lung transplantation generally described a grim prognosis, but these were anecdotal case series of symptomatic patients. A systematic study of the outcomes and pathology of SARS-CoV-2 infection in a large cohort of lung transplant patients is lacking. Methods: To determine the histopathologic evolution of COVID-19 in lung transplant recipients, we identified all patients who underwent surveillance transbronchial biopsies at our institution, tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and had multiple pathology specimens available for evaluation. Histology was reviewed and immunofluorescence for SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein was performed. Results: Ten patients met inclusion criteria. Half (5/10) had incidental diagnosis on routine respiratory pathogen testing at the time of transbronchial biopsy. Six patients were hospitalized, with three requiring intensive care unit (ICU) admission. One patient died. Two specimens showed new onset International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation (ISHLT) Grade A2 rejection at or following diagnosis. One patient developed bronchiolitis obliterans 111 days following diagnosis and 1 year post transplant. Two patients had organizing pneumonia at diagnosis and three patients showed evolving lung injury following diagnosis. The SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein was detected in a subset of samples at diagnosis and up to 111 days following diagnosis. Conclusions: Overall, the pathology of SARS-CoV-2 infection in lung transplant patients is varied, ranging from no pathologic alterations to organizing pneumonia and lung injury. The pathology findings did not necessarily correlate with clinical acuity, as one patient admitted to the ICU had normal pathology. These findings may be generalizable to non-transplant patients and require more follow-up regarding long-term outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13823
JournalTransplant Infectious Disease
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • lung transplant
  • pathology


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