Liver injury in COVID-19 patients has progressively emerged, even in those without a history of liver disease, yet the mechanism of liver pathogenicity is still controversial. COVID-19 is frequently associated with increased serum ferritin levels, and hyperferritinemia was shown to correlate with illness severity. The liver is the major site for iron storage, and conditions of iron overload have been established to have a pathogenic role in development of liver diseases. We presented here six patients who developed severe COVID-19, with biochemical evidence of liver failure. Three cases were survived patients, who underwent liver biopsy; the other three were deceased patients, who were autopsied. None of the patients suffered underlying liver pathologies. Histopathological and ultrastructural analyses were performed. The most striking finding we demonstrated in all patients was iron accumulation into hepatocytes, associated with degenerative changes. Abundant ferritin particles were found enclosed in siderosomes, and large aggregates of hemosiderin were found, often in close contact with damaged mitochondria. Iron-caused oxidative stress may be responsible for mitochondria metabolic dysfunction. In agreement with this, association between mitochondria and lipid droplets was also found. Overall, our data suggest that hepatic iron overload could be the pathogenic trigger of liver injury associated to COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 4 2021


  • COVID-19
  • electron microscopy
  • ferritin
  • iron overload
  • lipid droplets
  • liver
  • mitochondria
  • SARS-CoV-2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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