In vitro infection of human ocular tissues by SARS-CoV-2 lineage A isolates

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Background: The purpose of this study was: [1] to evaluate the infectivity of two SARS-CoV-2 lineage A variants on human ocular tissues in vitro, and [2] to evaluate the stability of SARS-CoV-2 lineage A variants in corneal preservation medium. Methods: Primary cultures of donor corneal, conjunctival, and limbal epithelium were inoculated with two lineage A, GISAID clade S isolates of SARS-CoV-2 (Hong Kong/VM20001061/2020, USA-WA1/2020), to evaluate the susceptibility of the ocular tissue to infection. Flat-mounted Descemet’s Stripping Automated Endothelial Keratoplasty (DSAEK) grafts were inoculated with SARS-CoV-2 to evaluate the susceptibility of the endothelium to infection. All inoculated samples were immunostained for SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid (N)-protein expression to confirm positive infection. SARS-CoV-2 Hong Kong was then inoculated into cornea preservation media (Life4°C, Numedis, Inc.). Inoculated media was stored at 4oC for 14 days and assayed over time for changes in infectious viral titers. Results: Corneal, conjunctival, and limbal epithelial cells all demonstrated susceptibility to infection by SARS-CoV-2 lineage A variants. Conjunctiva demonstrated the highest infection rate (78% of samples infected [14/18]); however, infection rates did not differ statistically between cell types and viral isolates. After inoculation, 40% (4/10) of DSAEK grafts had active infection in the endothelium. SARS-CoV-2 lineage A demonstrated < 1 log decline in viral titers out to 14 days in corneal preservation media. Conclusions: SARS-CoV-2 lineage A variants can infect corneal, limbal, and conjunctival epithelium, as well as corneal endothelium. There was no statistical difference in infectivity between different lineage A variants. SARS-CoV-2 lineage A can survive and remain infectious in corneal preservation media out to 14 days in cold storage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number518
JournalBMC Ophthalmology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding support was provided by unrestricted grants from the Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation (St. Paul, MN) and the Eye Bank Association of America (Washington, DC). All funding organizations had no role in the design of the study; the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; or the writing of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • COVID-19
  • Corneal endothelium
  • Corneal epithelium
  • SARS-CoV-2

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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