Purpose: To describe the confocal microscopic findings, with special reference to corneal subbasal nerves, after herpes simplex virus (HSV) keratitis.
Methods: In this study, 16 HSV eyes and 14 contralateral eyes of 16 patients, diagnosed with unilateral HSV keratitis 1-12 months earlier by the presence of dendritic corneal ulceration or microbiologic confirmation, were examined by in vivo confocal microscopy for evaluation of corneal morphology.
Results: Herpes simplex virus eyes: In 2 eyes the surface epithelial cells appeared large, and no abnormalities were observed in the basal epithelial cells. In 2 eyes subbasal nerve fiber bundles were completely absent, in 3 eyes there was a reduced number of long nerve fiber bundles, and in 11 eyes the subbasal nerve plexus appeared normal. In 10 corneas, highly reflective dendritic structures were found at the level of the basal epithelial cells. Frequently these structures were found in the vicinity of stromal fibrosis. Areas with increased abnormal extracellular matrix were found in 11 eyes. Stromal nerves were not visualized in all corneas, but appeared normal when observed. Contralateral eyes: No abnormalities were observed in the epithelium. All corneas presented with a normal subbasal nerve plexus, but in 2 eyes dendritic particles were observed. Three corneas presented with activated keratocytes and increased amounts of abnormal extracellular matrix.
Conclusions: When visualized by confocal microscopy, the subbasal nerve plexus appears relatively unaffected in cases with resolved HSV keratitis. Unidentified dendritic structures, presumably Langerhans cells, are frequently seen at the level of the basal epithelium in corneas with a history of herpetic disease.