The purpose of this study was to determine the in vitro and ex vivo susceptibility of human corneal cells to West Nile virus (WNV) infection and evaluate the ability of the virus to disseminate to the corneas of infected mice. Human corneal epithelial cells were challenged with WNV, incubated for 1-6 days, and tested for evidence of WNV infection. Viral RNA and antigen were detected at every time point, and the virus reached a peak titer of 2.5 × 107 plaque-forming units (pfu)/mL at 3 days postinoculation (PI). Corneas procured from donors were incubated in culture dishes containing WNV for 1-5 days and tested for evidence of WNV. Viral RNA and antigen were detected, and the virus reached a mean peak titer of 4.9 × 104 pfu/mL at 5 days PI. Mice were inoculated intraperitoneally with WNV, and their eyes were harvested at 2, 5, and 8 days PI and tested for evidence of WNV. Viral RNA was detected in corneas of four of nine systemically infected mice as early as 2 days PI. We conclude that human corneal cells support WNV replication in vitro and ex vivo, and WNV may disseminate into the corneas of experimentally infected mice. These findings indicate that corneal transmission cannot be ruled out as a novel mode of human-to-human WNV transmission and additional experiments should be conducted to assess this risk further.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Infectious Diseases