Eyes a haven for Ebola and other viruses

A specific cell in our retina, the light-sensitive part of our eyes that is responsible for sending visual information to our brains, appears to be particularly good at harboring Ebola and other viruses, new research has found.

Inflammation of the eye, known as uveitis, is very common after infection with Ebola and we know that the cells in the iris, in front of the eye, as well as the retina have the capacity to play an important role in uveitis and act as hosts for microorganisms, “said senior author of study Professor Justine Smith, Strategic Professor in Eye & Vision Health at Flinders University.

“What we did not know, however, was which of the two was most responsible in the case of Ebola.”

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Virology and under the auspices of Flinders University and CSIRO’s Australian Center for Disease Preparedness, human eye cells used donations from the SA Eye Bank to investigate the ability of iris and retinal pigment epithelial cells to become infected with Ebola.

Cells were infected with Ebola virus, Reston virus (a type of Ebola virus that does not cause disease in humans) or Zika virus (another type of virus but one that can also cause uveitis), while some were not infected for the time of trial.

While both types of cells seemed to allow the Ebola virus to replicate, it was the retinal cells that showed much higher levels of infection.

“We also found similar results when looking at cells infected with Reston virus and Zika virus,” Smith said.

“Patients with Ebola eye disease have characteristic retinal scarring, suggesting that the retinal pigment epithelium is involved in the disease, so this finding is consistent with what ophthalmologists see in the clinic.

“These retinal cells are good at eating things – called phagocytosis – and they play an essential part in the visual cycle by recycling our photoreceptors, so it makes sense that these cells be a receptive port for Ebola, like other viruses. . “

The researchers said the study highlights an important target for Ebola infection and suggests the potential for these cells to control acute viral infection to identify patients with the highest risk of uveitis.

“Uveitis can include problems including pain and blurred vision, eventually leading to vision loss, so it’s important that we find ways to diagnose it as early as possible to allow for rapid treatment,” Smith said.

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Eyes a haven for Ebola and other viruses

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