Adrenal tropism of SARS-CoV-2 and adrenal findings in a post-mortem case series of patients with severe fatal COVID-19

Tanja Paul, Stephan Ledderose, Harald Bartsch, Na Sun, Sarah Soliman, Bruno Märkl, Viktoria Ruf, Jochen Herms, Marcel Stern, Oliver T. Keppler, Claire Delbridge, Susanna Müller, Guido Piontek, Yuki Schneider Kimoto, Franziska Schreiber, Tracy Ann Williams, Jens Neumann, Thomas Knösel, Heiko Schulz, Ria SpallekMatthias Graw, Thomas Kirchner, Axel Walch, Martina Rudelius

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)
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Progressive respiratory failure and hyperinflammatory response is the primary cause of death in the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Despite mounting evidence of disruption of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis in COVID-19, relatively little is known about the tropism of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) to adrenal glands and associated changes. Here we demonstrate adrenal viral tropism and replication in COVID-19 patients. Adrenal glands showed inflammation accompanied by inflammatory cell death. Histopathologic analysis revealed widespread microthrombosis and severe adrenal injury. In addition, activation of the glycerophospholipid metabolism and reduction of cortisone intensities were characteristic for COVID-19 specimens. In conclusion, our autopsy series suggests that SARS-CoV-2 facilitates the induction of adrenalitis. Given the central role of adrenal glands in immunoregulation and taking into account the significant adrenal injury observed, monitoring of developing adrenal insufficiency might be essential in acute SARS-CoV-2 infection and during recovery.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1589
Number of pages12
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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