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covid19: autopsy analyses, biomarkers, von Willebrand factor

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von Willibrand factor, a multimeric blood protein which plays a central role in blood clotting

Canto: So we’re working hard to get through what has been reported on medcram update 95, even though it’s taking us further behind the times in terms of what’s happening in the fight against this virus – there’s been some controversy on convalescent plasma recently for example – because it’s important to get the most out of every report before going onto the next one.

Jacinta: Yes, which means we need to work harder and faster. So in this study of a number of fatal cases of covid19 they found ‘no endothelial abnormalities on microscopic review, in alignment with previous studies’, which suggests that evidence of endothelial damage just doesn’t seem to be there, but they couldn’t rule out pro-coagulant endothelial dysfunction in the absence of ‘histopathological evidence of cell activation or erosion’, and they referred to another autopsy study with specialised equipment which ‘demonstrated ultrastructural endothelial damage’. So it seems they’re struggling with causes.

Canto: What they call the precise aetiology of the disease. 

Jacinta: Yes that’s what we’re after. So they do mention elevated troponin in covid19, which appears to be found regularly. Troponins are ‘a group of proteins found in skeletal and cardiac muscle fibres that regulate muscular contraction’. As the update tells us, troponin tests measure cardiac-specific troponin in the blood as a sign of heart injury. This Australian site tells us more:

For patients who are hospitalised with COVID-19, mild elevation of troponin is common (19.7%) and frequently correlates with disease severity, acting as a marker for cardiac injury. The cause of troponin elevation in serious infection is multifactorial.

In the study under discussion, they consider that the elevated troponin has to do with ‘thrombosis of the microvasculature and cardiac veins’. This cardiac vein finding is apparently important – they found, they believe for the first time, that thrombosis of a cardiac vein can cause myocardial infarction. They also write about renal findings in their subjects, to ‘shed light on the pathogenesis of acute kidney injury in covid19’. They found virions in proximal tubular cells. A virion is essentially a full, active molecule of a virus (there’s still some disagreement about these definitions, it seems). The proximal tubules are components of nephrons, the most important functional units of kidneys. They found acute tubular necrosis and other damage, and noted that this was common to other covid19 autopsy findings, perhaps unsurprisingly as these tubular cells present ACE2, the receptor for the virus. Dr Seheult then goes on to another study from Switzerland. This study looked at 639 critically ill covid10 patients, to determine which factors were most associated with survival or otherwise. So in general they found that this group suffered a ‘moderate’ mortality rate of 24%. To understand the findings will require quite a bit of medico-immunological knowledge, but here goes: they found that ‘PCT and IL-6 levels remained similar in ICU survivors and non-survivors throughout the ICU stay’. PCT is procalcitonin. According to Medscape:

Procalcitonin (PCT) is a biomarker that exhibits greater specificity than other proinflammatory markers (eg, cytokines) in identifying sepsis and can be used in the diagnosis of bacterial infections. Procalcitonin is also produced by the neuroendocrine cells of the lung and intestine and is released as an acute-phase reactant in response to inflammatory stimuli, especially those of bacterial origin. This raised procalcitonin level during inflammation is associated with bacterial endotoxin and inflammatory cytokines.

IL-6 is interleukin-6. An opinion article in Frontiers in Microbiology  entitled ‘The Role of Interleukin-6 During Viral Infections’ describes IL-6:

IL-6 is a pleiotropic cytokine produced in response to tissue damage and infections…  Multiple cell types including fibroblasts, keratinocytes, mesangial cells, vascular endothelial cells, mast cells, macrophages, dendritic cells, and T and B cells are associated with the production of this cytokine….

Pleiotropic cytokines – a cytokine is a type of small protein – affect the activity of multiple cell types. The complex pleiotropic nature of IL-6 unsurprisingly implicates it in both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effects. So, PCT and Il-6 levels remained similar for these study subjects, but ‘CRP, creatinine, troponin, D-dimer, lactate, neutrophil count, P/F diverged within the first seven days.’  Okay, C-reactive protein (CRP) is produced in the liver, from which it enters the bloodstream, and its levels ‘start to increase very soon after any inflammation or infection affects the body’, according to Australia’s healthdirect website. Creatinine is a waste product found in everyone’s bloodstream, and it’s produced by muscle metabolism. It’s generally filtered out by the kidneys. Too much blood creatinine may be a sign of kidney dysfunction. D-Dimer, the fibrin degradation product, always contains ‘two D fragments of the fibrin product joined by a cross-link’. I won’t try to explain much further at present. Neutrophils, remember, are infection-fighting white blood cells, and P/F ratio, aka PaO2/FiO2 ratio, is, briefly, an assessment of lung function. So with that, and some more, the study looked at levels of different markers most associated with mortality. To quote from the study: 

In contrast to risk factors in hospitalised patients reported in other studies, the main mortality predictors in these critically ill patients were markers of oxygenation deficit, renal and microvascular dysfunction, and coagulatory activation. Elevated risk of bloodstream infections underscores the need to exercise caution with off-label therapies. 

Canto: That last point seems important- it’s all about the blood. Or mostly..?

Jacinta: They presented a number of graphs which Dr Seheult interprets for us, but basically they are all likely to mark higher levels of microthrombi in the patients who died, and this seemed more clearly so in the D-dimer levels. High lactate levels are a sign of anaerobic metabolism, a problem with oxygenation. Ischemic heart disease was also measured, and this has to do with narrowing of the arteries. So blood oxygenation, or lack thereof, and coagulation, which can happen just about anywhere, seems to be happening early, leading to a wide range of symptoms, especially in patients with comorbidities, some of them previously undetected. 

Canto: So we’re moving on to update 96, which starts again with thrombosis due to endothelial damage causing increased production or release of von Willibrand factor (VWF).

Jacinta: Yes, and they’re apparently finding that different blood groups or types – and that’s a topic we could spend a lot of time on – affect the level and activity of VWF. As do other factors, according to Russian researcher Anna Aksenova:

The level and activity of VWF in the blood in people can be different. The lowest values are associated with von Willebrand disease. It is a hereditary blood disease that is characterized by spontaneous bleeding. Additionally, it differs markedly among healthy people. For example, it is higher among: African Americans than among Europeans; in men than in women; in adults than in children; and in the elderly than in middle-aged people. Also, academic papers have described the VWF and blood group relationship—its level is lower among people with blood group 0, and is higher among those with blood group A. The different amount and activity of VWF in people with different blood groups has a very interesting explanation: this protein is modified by oligosaccharide chains of antigenic determinants of the AB0 system (one of the blood group systems), and this affects its stability and activity.

She points out that ‘to date, the way in which the level of VWF is regulated in the blood has not yet been fully studied’, and then she describes some of what we do know, that it’s stored in special organelles (Weibel-Palade bodies) from where it’s secreted in multimeric form. She argues that, in order to determine the level of involvement of VWF in the progress of covid19, ‘large scale and comprehensive research’ needs to be carried out. Another article which is looking at emergency covid19 treatment has the title ‘targeting raised VWF levels and macrophage activation in severe covid19: consider low volume plasma exchange and low dose steroid’. It points out that VWF is such a large protein that it can only really be removed from the body through plasma exchange. This may be a way to reduce thrombosis in serious cases. Another interesting commentary piece is titled ‘microthrombotic complications of covid19 are likely due to embolism of circulating endothelial-derived ultralarge von Willebrand Factor (eULVWF) decorated-platelet strings’. 

Canto: An embolism being a blockage, caused by an embolus. That embolus could be a blood clot (a thrombus) or a fat globule or an air or gas bubble. 

Jacinta: Yes, and VWF can come in these long strings of platelets. In fact the platelets adhere to the strings. Anyway, that’ll do for now. We’ll go on about ivermectin and the Moderna vaccine trials next time. 

References

Coronavirus Pandemic Update 95: Widespread Clotting on Autopsy; New COVID-19 Prognostic Data

Coronavirus Pandemic Update 96: RNA Vaccine; Ivermectin; von Willebrand Factor and COVID-19

https://labtestsonline.org/tests/troponin#:~:text=Troponins%20are%20a%20group%20of,to%20help%20detect%20heart%20injury.

https://www1.racgp.org.au/ajgp/coronavirus/cardiovascular-conditions-and-covid-19#:~:text=Elevated%20biomarkers%3A%20Troponin%20and%20natriuretic,a%20marker%20for%20cardiac%20injury.&text=The%20cause%20of%20troponin%20elevation%20in%20serious%20infection%20is%20multifactorial.

https://www.medscape.com/answers/2096589-179642/what-is-procalcitonin-pct

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2019.01057/full

https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=26197

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/c-reactive-protein-CRP-test

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-07-complications-covid-von-willebrand-factor.html

Written by stewart henderson

September 6, 2020 at 1:44 pm

more Covid-19 gleanings from MedCram updates 67-69

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polymorphonuclear leukocytes (white blood cells)

I’m continuing my self-education re everything Covid-19 thanks to Dr Seheult’s updates and other useful sites. Update 67 carries on from where we left off, summarising again how SARS-CoV2 induces endothelial dysfunction, before focusing on thrombosis. So we repeat again that a key molecule in normal endothelial function and in the working of AT-1,7 is nitric oxide (NO). Endothelial function (and, to be clear, the endothelium lines the vasculature, which means the body’s blood vessels) is also dependent on the various other enzymes mentioned in the last post, e.g. superoxide dismutase (SOD), and glutathione peroxidase (GPx).

So how does Covid-19 bring about oxidative stress and how does this effect thrombosis? Seheult discusses an article from April this year which addresses this. It describes a previously healthy elderly male admitted to hospital with fever and respiratory symptoms. After rapid deterioration he was sent to ICU, having developed ARDS, acute renal insufficiency and other health problems. Among various measures noted was a ‘massive elevation of von Willebrand factor (VWF), as well as ‘factor VIII of the coagulation cascade’. To quote from the article:

The increased VWF points toward massive endothelial stimulation and damage with release of VWF from Weibel-Palade bodies. Interestingly, endothelial cells express ACE-2, the receptor for SARS-CoV2, thus possibly mediating endothelial activation.

To explain some of these terms: Weibel-Palade bodies are found only in epithelial cells, and they contain VWF, which are released when required for haemostasis and coagulation. VWF is a stringy material of amino acid proteins which combine with platelets (aka thrombocytes) to coagulate the blood. When endothelial cells suffer serious damage, Weibel-Palade bodies inject large amounts of VWF into the bloodstream. Dr Seheult presents the abstract from a 2017 article on the topic:

The main function of VWF is to initiate platelet adhesion upon vascular injury. The hallmark of acute and chronic inflammation is the widespread activation of endothelial cells which provokes excessive VWF secretion from the endothelial cell storage pool. The level of VWF in blood not only reflects the state of endothelial activation early on in the pathogenesis, but also predicts disease outcome. Elevation in the blood level of VWF occurs either by pathologic increase in the rate of basal VWF secretion or by increased evoked VWF release from dysfunctional/activated endothelial cells. The increase in plasma VWF is predictive of prothrombotic complications and multi-organ system failure associated with reduced survival in the context of severe inflammatory response syndrome, type 2 diabetes mellitus, stroke and other inflammatory cardiovascular disease states.

The article points out that an over-production of VWF in highly elongated form is an indication of pathology. This is apparently being seen in serious Covid-19 patients. On the molecular level, the VWF is able to remodel itself from its usual globular conformation when it senses shear forces – note this definition from Science Direct: Shear stress is defined as the frictional force generated by blood flow in the endothelium, that is, the force that the blood flow exerts on the vessel wall, expressed in force-area unit (typically dynes/cm2). The VWF, under this stress, ‘turns into an extended chain format that forms ultra-large strings to which platelets bind to initiate clot formation at sites of vascular damage’. When the shear stress reaches a certain level, factor VIII is released. All of this can be essential for haemostasis, but too much of the multimeric, elongated form of VWF will lead to thrombosis, as appeared to be occurring in the patient described above.

So, as Seheult summarises, SARS-CoV2 binds to ACE-2 receptors and reduces ACE-2 production. This reduction has the effect of increasing AT-2 production and reducing AT-1,7. This results in an increase in superoxide production, oxidative stress and endothelial dysfunction. This in turns leads to an increase in VWF activity in the bloodstream, and local thrombosis. There is evidence from autopsies that thrombosis is a feature of Covid-19 mortality.

In his update 68 Dr Seheult looks at the predisposition of some ethnic groups (in the USA) to the more severe symptoms associated with Covid-19. He discussed a May CDC MMWR (morbidity and mortality weekly report) on 580 hospitalised Covid-19 patients which found that 45% were white, as far as they could ascertain, compared to 55% in that region’s community. 33% were black, compared to 18% in the community, and 8% were Hispanic compared to 14% in the community. A smallish sample, but suggestive. The CDC also reported on New York figures showing that Covid-19 death rates among black/African Americans and Hispanic/Latino persons were substantially higher than in the white population. Many possible reasons – work and living conditions, lower access to care – all generally related to relative poverty. There may also be other, purely physiological grounds for the disparity. A 16-year-old research article published in Circulation describes the results of placing nanosensors in isolated human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECS) from blacks and whites (pardon the over-simplification, I’m only the messenger), as an attempt to measure endothelial oxidative stress. I can’t follow the details of the research, but what they found was that blacks expressed much more NADPH oxidase than whites (that’s bad). Nitric oxide, a reducer of oxidative stress, was produced in greater quantities in whites than in blacks, and the bad superoxides were produced in greater quantities in blacks. I won’t go further into the complex biochemistry, but I must say I find these apparent racial differences very surprising.

Update 68 also looks at increasing hospitalisations (at least in May) of young children due to Kawasaki disease, or something similar. The disease is characterised by inflammation of blood vessels. Symptoms include fever, high heart rate and possibly sepsis. There are a number of similarities to Covid-19, including ‘systemic vascular lesions’. Kawasaki disease is normally rare, and believed to be viral, or a response to a virus. A ten-year-old research paper on the disease hypothesises that the infection enters through the respiratory or gastro-intestinal systems, and so unsurprisingly there are similarities to the reaction to SARS-CoV2. Whether there’s a connection between Covid-19 and an uptick in Kawasaki disease has yet to be confirmed (but I’m behind the times on the research on this).

I’m moving now to update 69, and I’m going to follow Dr Seheult through the whole oxidative stress process again. It’s about reduction of oxygen – the adding of electrons. Adding an electron to oxygen, mediated by NADPH oxidase, produces superoxide. Add another electron and you get hydrogen peroxide. Another electron produces hydroxyl, and yet another produces water, moving from most oxidised to most reduced, and adding electrons also brings on protons. So at both ends of this chain you have neutral or positive molecules, but in between you have, I think ROS, reactive oxygen species, which are a problem. The body’s defence against these include the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), which converts superoxide into hydrogen peroxide and also back into oxygen, and catalase which converts hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. Another important enzyme which protects against oxidative damage is glutathione peroxidase (GPx). It takes reduced glutathione (2GS-H, called a sulph-hydryl group) and uses it to reduce hydrogen peroxide into water, in the process oxidising the glutathione into a form of disulphide G-S-S-G. This oxidised form is in turn ‘regenerated back’ by taking the reduced form of NADP+ (NADPH) and converting it via glutathione reductase to NADP+.

So the point is that the accumulation of superoxide in people with diabetes, hypertension, coronory disease etc will be exacerbated by Covid-19. And going through that once more, Covid-19 blocks the ACE-2 receptor, causing an accumulation of AT-2 which stimulates superoxide production, and also a deficiency of AT-1,7, which, mediated by nitric oxide, inhibits superoxide production. The SARS-CoV2 virus also attracts PMNs (polymorphonuclear leukocytes – immune cells including neutrophils), which boost superoxide production, with attendant endothelial damage.

I’ll be continuing this series, and no doubt getting further behind, over the next few weeks.

References

Coronavirus pandemic update 67, presented by Dr Roger Seheult, as with all other updates

Coronavirus pandemic update 68

Coronavirus pandemic update 69 (first 5 minutes or so)

https://www.verywellhealth.com/polymorphonuclear-leukocyte-2252099

Written by stewart henderson

July 29, 2020 at 11:11 am