Corneal perforation in ocular graft-versus-host disease

Cathy Y. Zhang, Asim V. Farooq, George J. Harocopos, Eric L. Sollenberger, Joshua H. Hou, Charles S. Bouchard, Christine Shieh, Uyen L. Tran, Anthony J. Lubniewski, Andrew J.W. Huang, Grace L. Paley

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10 Scopus citations


Purpose: Corneal perforation is a rare, vision-threatening complication of ocular graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and is not well understood. Our objective was to examine the clinical disease course and histopathologic correlation in patients who progressed to this outcome. Methods: This study is a retrospective case series from four academic centers in the United States. All patients received a hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) prior to developing ocular GVHD. Variables of interest included patient demographics, time interval between HSCT and ocular events, visual acuity throughout clinical course, corticosteroid and infection prophylaxis regimens at time of corneal perforation, medical/surgical interventions, and histopathology. Results: Fourteen eyes from 14 patients were analyzed. Most patients were male (86%) and Caucasian (86%), and average age at time of hematopoietic stem cell transplant was 47 years. The mean interval between hematopoietic stem cell transplant and diagnosis of ocular graft-versus-host disease was 9.5 months, and between hematopoietic stem cell transplant and corneal perforation was 37 months. Initial best-corrected visual acuity was 20/40 or better in 9 eyes, and all eyes had moderate or poor visual outcomes despite aggressive management, including corneal gluing in all patients followed by keratoplasty in 8 patients. The mean follow-up after perforation was 34 months (range 2–140 months). Oral prednisone was used prior to perforation in 11 patients (79%). On histopathology, representative specimens in the acute phase demonstrated ulcerative keratitis with perforation but minimal inflammatory cells and no microorganisms, consistent with sterile corneal “melt” in the setting of immunosuppression; and in the healed phase, filling in of the perforation site with fibrous scar. Conclusions: In these patients, an extended time interval was identified between the diagnosis of ocular graft-versus-host disease and corneal perforation. This represents a critical window to potentially prevent this devastating outcome. Further study is required to identify those patients at greatest risk as well as to optimize prevention strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101224
JournalAmerican Journal of Ophthalmology Case Reports
StatePublished - Dec 2021

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  • Corneal perforation
  • Corneal ulcer
  • Graft-versus-host disease


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