Here, we report our studies of immune-mediated regulation of Zika virus (ZIKV), herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection in the human cornea. We find that ZIKV can be transmitted via corneal transplantation in mice. However, in human corneal explants, we report that ZIKV does not replicate efficiently and that SARS-CoV-2 does not replicate at all. Additionally, we demonstrate that type III interferon (IFN-λ) and its receptor (IFNλR1) are expressed in the corneal epithelium. Treatment of human corneal explants with IFN-λ, and treatment of mice with IFN-λ eye drops, upregulates antiviral interferon-stimulated genes. In human corneal explants, blockade of IFNλR1 enhances replication of ZIKV and HSV-1 but not SARS-CoV-2. In addition to an antiviral role for IFNλR1 in the cornea, our results suggest that the human cornea does not support SARS-CoV-2 infection despite expression of ACE2, a SARS-CoV-2 receptor, in the human corneal epithelium.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108339
JournalCell Reports
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 3 2020


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Zika virus
  • cornea
  • coronavirus
  • eye
  • herpes simplex virus
  • interferon lambda
  • type III interferon


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