Conjunctival epithelial cells resist productive SARS-CoV-2 infection. Academic Article uri icon


  • Conjunctival epithelial cells, which express viral-entry receptors angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and transmembrane protease serine type 2 (TMPRSS2), constitute the largest exposed epithelium of the ocular surface tissue and may represent a relevant viral-entry route. To address this question, we generated an organotypic air-liquid-interface model of conjunctival epithelium, composed of basal, suprabasal, and superficial epithelial cells, and fibroblasts, which could be maintained successfully up to day 75 of differentiation. Using single-cell RNA sequencing (RNA-seq), with complementary imaging and virological assays, we observed that while all conjunctival cell types were permissive to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) genome expression, a productive infection did not ensue. The early innate immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection in conjunctival cells was characterised by a robust autocrine and paracrine NF-κB activity, without activation of antiviral interferon signalling. Collectively, these data enrich our understanding of SARS-CoV-2 infection at the human ocular surface, with potential implications for the design of preventive strategies and conjunctival transplantation.Crown Copyright © 2022. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • July 2022