Organ Involvement in COVID-19: A Molecular Investigation of Autopsied Patients

Prem Shankar, Jitendra Singh, Ankur Joshi, Anvita Gupta Malhotra, Arti Shrivas, Garima Goel, Priyal Gupta, Jayanthi Yadav, Saurabh Saigal, Sarman Singh, Shashank Purwar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Precise reasons for severe manifestation of SARS-CoV-2 remain unanswered, and efforts have been focused on respiratory system management. Demonstration of unequivocal presence of SARS-CoV-2 in vital body organs by cadaver autopsy was the only way to prove multi-organ involvement. Hence, the primary objective of the study was to determine presence of the SARS-CoV-2 in various organs of patients succumbing to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A total of 246 samples from different organs of 21 patients who died due to severe COVID-19 illness were investigated by qRT-PCR, and SARS-CoV-2 was detected in 181 (73.57%) samples and highest positivity of SARS-CoV-2 being (expectedly) found in nasopharynx (90.4%) followed by bilateral lungs (87.30%), peritoneal fluid (80%), pancreas (72.72%), bilateral kidneys (68.42%), liver (65%) and even in brain (47.2%). The deceased patients were categorized to three subgroups based upon the extent of organs in which SARS-CoV-2 was detected by qRT-PCR (high intensity ≥80%, intermediate intensity = 65–80% and low intensity ≤65% organs involvement). It was conclusively established that SARS-CoV-2 has the property of invasion beyond lungs and even crosses the blood–brain barrier, resulting in multi-system disease; this is probably the reason behind cytokine storm, though it is not clear whether organ damage is due to direct injury caused by the virus or result of inflammatory assault. Significant inverse correlation was found between the Ct value of lung samples and number of organs involved, implying that higher viral load in lungs is directly proportionate to involvement of extrapulmonary organs and patients with higher viral load in respiratory secretions should be monitored more closely for any warning signs and the treatment strategies should also address involvement of other organs for better outcome, because lungs, though the primary site of infection, are not the only organ system responsible for pathogenesis of systemic illness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1333
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • SARS-CoV-2
  • autopsy
  • organ involvement
  • qRT-PCR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Virology


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