COVID-19: Histopathological correlates of imaging patterns on chest computed tomography

Azar Kianzad, Lilian J. Meijboom, Esther J. Nossent, Eva Roos, Bernadette Schurink, Peter I. Bonta, Inge A.H. van den Berk, Rieneke Britstra, Jaap Stoker, Anton Vonk Noordegraaf, Paul van der Valk, Erik Thunnissen, Marianna Bugiani, Harm Jan Bogaard*, Teodora Radonic

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background and objective: Patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pneumonia present with typical findings on chest computed tomography (CT), but the underlying histopathological patterns are unknown. Through direct regional correlation of imaging findings to histopathological patterns, this study aimed to explain typical COVID-19 CT patterns at tissue level. Methods: Eight autopsy cases were prospectively selected of patients with PCR-proven COVID-19 pneumonia with varying clinical manifestations and causes of death. All had been subjected to chest CT imaging 24–72 h prior to death. Twenty-seven lung areas with typical COVID-19 patterns and two radiologically unaffected pulmonary areas were correlated to histopathological findings in the same lung regions. Results: Two dominant radiological patterns were observed: ground-glass opacity (GGO) (n = 11) and consolidation (n = 16). In seven of 11 sampled areas of GGO, diffuse alveolar damage (DAD) was observed. In four areas of GGO, the histological pattern was vascular damage and thrombosis, with (n = 2) or without DAD (n = 2). DAD was also observed in five of 16 samples derived from areas of radiological consolidation. Seven areas of consolidation were based on a combination of DAD, vascular damage and thrombosis. In four areas of consolidation, bronchopneumonia was found. Unexpectedly, in samples from radiologically unaffected lung parenchyma, evidence was found of vascular damage and thrombosis. Conclusion: In COVID-19, radiological findings of GGO and consolidation are mostly explained by DAD or a combination of DAD and vascular damage plus thrombosis. However, the different typical CT patterns in COVID-19 are not related to specific histopathological patterns. Microvascular damage and thrombosis are even encountered in the radiologically normal lung.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)869-877
Number of pages9
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021

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