Respiratory viruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), can trigger chronic lung disease that persists and even progresses after expected clearance of infectious virus. To gain an understanding of this process, the current study examined a series of consecutive fatal cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that came to autopsy at 27 to 51 days after hospital admission. In each patient, a stereotyped bronchiolar-alveolar pattern of lung remodeling was identified with basal epithelial cell hyperplasia, immune activation, and mucinous differentiation. Remodeling regions featured macrophage infiltration and apoptosis and a marked depletion of alveolar type 1 and 2 epithelial cells. This pattern closely resembled findings from an experimental model of post-viral lung disease that requires basal-epithelial stem cell growth, immune activation, and differentiation. Together, these results provide evidence of basal epithelial cell reprogramming in long-term COVID-19 and thereby yield a pathway for explaining and correcting lung dysfunction in this type of disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)680-689
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Pathology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023


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