Hypoalbuminemia in COVID-19: assessing the hypothesis for underlying pulmonary capillary leakage

This article was originally published here

J Intern Med. 2021 Jan 7. doi: 10.1111/joim.13208. Online ahead of print.


BACKGROUND: Since the first observations of patients with COVID-19, significant hypoalbuminaemia was detected. Its causes have not been investigated yet.

OBJECTIVE: We hypothesized that pulmonary capillary leakage affects the severity of respiratory failure, causing a shift of fluids and proteins through the epithelial-endothelial barrier.

METHODS: One hundred seventy-four COVID-19 patients with respiratory symptoms, 92 admitted to the intermediate medicine ward (IMW) and 82 to the intensive care unit (ICU) at Luigi Sacco Hospital in Milan, were studied.

RESULTS: Baseline characteristics at admission were considered. Proteins, interleukin 8 (IL-8) and interleukin 10 (IL-10) in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) were analysed in 26 ICU patients. In addition, ten autopsy ultrastructural lung studies were performed in patients with COVID-19 and compared with postmortem findings in a control group (bacterial pneumonia-ARDS and H1N1-ARDS). ICU patients had lower serum albumin than IMW patients [20 (18-23) vs 28 (24-33) g L-1 , P < 0.001]. Serum albumin was lower in more compromised groups (lower PaO2 -to-FiO2 ratio and worst chest X-ray findings) and was associated with 30 days of probability of survival. Protein concentration was correlated with IL-8 and IL-10 levels in BALF. Electron microscopy examinations of eight out of ten COVID-19 lung tissues showed loosening of junctional complexes, quantitatively more pronounced than in controls, and direct viral infection of type 2 pneumocytes and endothelial cells.

CONCLUSION: Hypoalbuminaemia may serve as severity marker of epithelial-endothelial damage in patients with COVID-19. There are clues that pulmonary capillary leak syndrome plays a key role in the pathogenesis of COVID-19 and might be a potential therapeutic target.

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