Herpes stromal keratitis (HSK) results from infection of herpes simplex virus (HSV) in the cornea. Recurrent HSV infection is a leading cause of corneal scarring and visual loss. Although it is generally thought that HSK is the result of an immune response to one or more viral proteins, no viral proteins have been detected in HSK corneas. Thus, the viral proteins involved in HSK, if any, remain undetermined. In contrast, it is reported here that when HSK corneal buttons from latently infected rabbits were fixed using standard procedures, the important immediate-early HSV-1 protein ICP0 was readily detected in the fixative by Western blotting. Similarly, when HSK corneal buttons were soaked in buffer (rather than fixative), ICP0 was readily detected in the soaking buffer. Other HSV-1 proteins were not detected either in the fixative or in the soaking buffer. It is also reported here that ICP0 was consistently detected in virus-free tears from the eyes of rabbits acutely infected with HSV-1. These results suggest that ICP0 rapidly diffuses out of the cornea and may explain why ICP0 was detected in the fixative of HSK corneas and in the soaking buffer of acutely infected corneas.
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