The biology of Acanthamoeba keratitis

Exp Eye Res. 2021 Jan:202:108365. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2020.108365. Epub 2020 Nov 19.


Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) is a rare protozoal infection of the cornea. At least eight species of Acanthamoeba are known to cause this sight-threatening disease of the ocular surface. Acanthamoeba spp. exist in a wide array of niches ranging from thermal springs to under ice and every conceivable habitat in between. Contact lens wear is the leading risk factor for AK and is practiced by over 30 million individuals in the United States, yet the incidence of AK is less than 33 cases per one million contact lens wearers. Serological studies have reported that 90%-100% of individuals with no history of AK possess antibodies specific for Acanthamoeba antigens indicating that exposure to this organism is commonplace, yet disease is remarkably rare. Animal studies have shed light on the pathobiology and immunobiology of AK and indicate that a constellation of factors including the ocular surface microbiome and the microbiome of Acanthamoeba itself contribute to the pathogenesis of AK. Interesting, secretory antibodies produced by the adaptive immune response can prevent the initiation of corneal infection, but once Acanthamoeba trophozoites breach the corneal epithelium the adaptive immune system is helpless in altering the course of AK. It has been almost 50 years since AK was first described, yet many questions remain unanswered about this curious and enigmatic disease of the ocular surface.

Keywords: Acanthamoeba; Contact lens; Cornea; Immunology; Keratitis; Microbiome; Pathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acanthamoeba / immunology*
  • Acanthamoeba Keratitis / diagnosis*
  • Acanthamoeba Keratitis / parasitology
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Protozoan / immunology
  • Contact Lenses / adverse effects
  • Contact Lenses / parasitology*
  • Cornea / parasitology
  • Cornea / pathology*
  • Eye Infections, Parasitic / diagnosis*
  • Eye Infections, Parasitic / parasitology
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors


  • Antibodies, Protozoan