Early, rapidly progressive vasculopathy in a transplanted heart: A possible complication of COVID-19

Bryan G. Pearson, David Walker, Alfred Lea, Wissam Khalife, Karen K. Kislingbury, Scott D. Lick, Paul J. Boor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The epidemic caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has had a significant global impact, especially on immunosuppressed populations such as heart transplant recipients. While SARS-CoV-2 initially infects the respiratory system, cardiovascular complications induced by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) include cardiac arrest, myocardial infarction, heart failure, myocarditis, arrhythmia, acute myocyte injury, thrombotic events, and cardiogenic shock. Here, we present a case of a 45-year-old African American male who tested positive for COVID-19 infection six months after receiving a heart transplant. The patient was asymptomatic initially, but two weeks later he developed dyspnea, early satiety, and abdominal bloating. The patient was admitted to the hospital for acute renal failure and subsequently diagnosed with moderate acute T cell-mediated allograft rejection (Grade 2R) by endomyocardial biopsy. Three months after testing positive for COVID-19, the patient suffered a sudden cardiac death. At autopsy, the epicardium was diffusely edematous and showed vascular congestion. The coronary arteries showed a striking concentric narrowing of lumens and diffusely thickened arterial walls of all major extramural arteries deemed consistent with a rapidly progressive form of cardiac allograft vasculopathy (CAV). SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein was localized by immunohistochemistry (IHC) in endothelial cells of venules and capillaries within the epicardium. Our localization of SARS-CoV-2 in coronary vessel endothelial cells by IHC suggests that endothelial cell infection, endotheliitis, and immune-related inflammation may be a primary mechanism of vascular injury. The present case represents an early onset rapidly progressive form of CAV. This case may be the first case of post-transplant arteriopathy occurring in such a short time that includes corresponding autopsy, surgical pathology, and IHC data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107661
JournalCardiovascular Pathology
StatePublished - Sep 1 2024


  • Autopsy
  • Cardiac transplant
  • COVID-19
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Transplant arteriopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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