Morphoproteomics and Etiopathogenic Features of Pulmonary COVID-19 with Therapeutic Implications: A Case Study

Robert E. Brown, Dwayne Wolf, Robert L. Hunter, Bihong Zhao, L. Maximilian Buja

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the world economically and medically. Understanding and defining the biology of this specific coronavirus infection may lead to targeted therapies to lessen its virulence and expand the host resistance. This study's objective was to apply morphoproteomics to pulmonary lung sections from a forensic autopsy of an untreated COVID-19 victim, so that we may better define its biology from the perspective of its interaction with the host and provide options for therapeutic targets. DESIGN: Morphoproteomic analysis from a case study of this COVID-19 pulmonary infection included immunohistochemical probes to detect phosphorylated p-STAT3 (Tyr 705), as part of the interleukin (IL)-6 pathway; cyclooxygenase (COX)-2, CD8+ cytotoxic lymphocytes, Programmed Death (PD)-1 receptor+ lymphoid cells, CD56+ NK lymphoid cells, CD163+ (M2 polarized monocytes/macrophages), and programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression as part of the host response to interaction with the COVID-19 virus. RESULTS: Representative sections of the COVID-19 victim's lung showed: nuclear expression of p-STAT3 (Tyr 705) in many of the alveolar pneumocytes and in occasional endothelial cells; COX-2 expression in the alveolar pneumocytes; a relative paucity of CD8+ cytotoxic lymphocytes; absence of CD56+ NK lymphoid cells; abundance of intra-alveolar and alveolar interstitial CD163+ macrophages/monocytes; PD-L1 expression on occasional macrophages, focally on collections of alveolar pneumocytes, and on cells in the alveolar interstitium; and rare PD-1+ lymphocytes in similar regions as CD8+ lymphocytes. CONCLUSION: Morphoproteomics and microanatomical features coincide with the etiopathogenic features of pulmonary coronavirus infection and the host response. This suggests that a targeted therapy could address the biology of COVID-19 pneumonia, enhance the host immune response and prevent its progression to a life-threatening, ventilator-dependent clinical situation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)308-313
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of clinical and laboratory science
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • morphoproteomics
  • pulmonary COVID-19

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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