SARS-CoV-2 infects human adult donor eyes and hESC-derived ocular epithelium

Anne Z Eriksen, Rasmus Møller, Bar Makovoz, Skyler A Uhl, Benjamin R tenOever, Timothy A Blenkinsop

10.1016/j.stem.2021.04.028 17/05/2021

PMID: PMC8126605


The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has caused unparalleled disruption of global behavior and significant loss of life. To minimize SARS-CoV-2 spread, understanding the mechanisms of infection from all possible routes of entry is essential. While aerosol transmission is thought to be the primary route of spread, viral particles have been detected in ocular fluid, suggesting that the eye may be a vulnerable point of viral entry. To this end, we confirmed SARS-CoV-2 entry factor and antigen expression in post-mortem COVID-19 patient ocular surface tissue and observed productive viral replication in cadaver samples and eye organoid cultures, most notably in limbal regions. Transcriptional analysis of ex vivo infected ocular surface cells and hESC-derived eye cultures revealed robust induction of NF-κB in infected cells as well as diminished type I/III interferon signaling. Together these data suggest that the eye can be directly infected by SARS-CoV-2 and implicate limbus as a portal for viral entry.

Keywords: ACE2; COVID-19; NF-κB; SARS-CoV-2; cornea; eye; interferon; limbus; scRNA-seq; stem cells.