Background: Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a ubiquitous mucosal pathogen with a propensity for lifelong, asymptomatic persistence. Because of reported association between EBV and ocular inflammatory disorders, we tested ocular tissues from normal eyes for presence of the EBV genome.
Methods: Ten freshly harvested cadaveric human eyes were dissected into limbal cornea, central cornea, aqueous humor, iris, vitreous humor, and optic nerve. Total cellular DNA preparations were screened for DNA sequences specific to EBV's large internal repeat region. After Southern transfer, polymerase chain reaction products were detected by a 32P-labeled oligonucleotide probe specific to amplified sequences internal to the polymerase chain reaction primers.
Results: Seven of ten eyes from deceased donors yielded a polymerase chain reaction product, indicating presence of EBV genome. In all, 12 (20%) of 60 cadaveric ocular samples contained EBV DNA. Only the optic nerve was consistently negative for EBV DNA.
Conclusions: Detection of EBV DNA in cadaveric ocular tissues indicates a broad anatomic distribution of this persistent mucosal pathogen. The frequency with which EBV was found at apparently normal ocular sites raises the possibility for viral involvement in disease states, but emphasizes the need for specific criteria to implicate EBV in ocular pathology.