Fri, 01 Jul 2022

Retinal cells a haven for viruses: Australian study

21 Jun 2022, 11:44 GMT+10

CANBERRA, June 21 (Xinhua) -- Australian researchers have identified a cell in the human eye that is particularly good at housing viruses including Ebola.

In a study published recently, the team from Flinders University and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) investigated the ability of cells from the retina and iris to be infected by viruses.

Cells from human eyes donated to the Eye Bank of South Australia were either exposed to the Ebola virus, Zika virus, Reston virus, or left uninfected.

The researchers found the cells from the retina -- the part of the eye responsible for sending visual information to the brain -- had a significantly higher level of infection.

"Inflammation of the eye, known as uveitis, is very common following infection with Ebola and we know the cells within the iris, at the front of the eye, as well as the retina has the capacity to play a major role in uveitis and act as hosts for microorganisms," Justine Smith, research strategic professor of Eye & Vision Health at Flinders University and senior author of the study, said in a media release.

Patients with Ebola eye disease have characteristic retinal scars, suggesting the retinal pigment epithelium is involved in the disease, so this finding is consistent with what eye doctors are seeing in the clinic, Smith said.

"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 would be a receptive haven for Ebola, as well as other viruses."

First observed in 1976, Ebola has since impacted tens of thousands of people, mostly in central Africa.

Smith said the findings of the study could lead to monitoring techniques for the retinal cells to identify patients at risk of uveitis.

"Amongst other issues, including pain and blurred vision, uveitis can ultimately lead to vision loss, so it's important we find ways to diagnose it as early as possible to enable swift treatment," Smith said.

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