Rift Valley Fever Virus Infects the Posterior Segment of the Eye and Induces Inflammation in a Rat Model of Ocular Disease

Madeline M. Schwarz, Kaleigh A. Connors, Katherine A. Davoli, Cynthia M. McMillen, Joseph R. Albe, Ryan M. Hoehl, Matthew J. Demers, Safder S. Ganaie, David A. Price, Daisy W. Leung, Gaya K. Amarasinghe, Anita K. McElroy, Douglas S. Reed, Amy L. Hartman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


People infected with themosquito-borne Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) can suffer from eye-related problems resulting in ongoing vision issues or even permanent blindness. Despite ocular disease being the most frequently reported severe outcome, it is vastly understudied compared to other disease outcomes caused by RVFV. Ocular manifestations of RVFV include blurred vision, uveitis, and retinitis. When an infected individual develops macular or paramacular lesions, there is a 50% chance of permanent vision loss in one or both eyes. The cause of blinding ocular pathology remains unknown in part due to the lack of a tractable animal model. Using 3 relevant exposure routes, both subcutaneous (SC) and aerosol inoculation of Sprague Dawley rats led to RVFV infection of the eye. Surprisingly, direct inoculation of the conjunctiva did not result in successful ocular infection. The posterior segment of the eye, including the optic nerve, choroid, ciliary body, and retina, were all positive for RVFV antigen in SC-infected rats, and live virus was isolated from the eyes. Proinflammatory cytokines and increased leukocyte counts were also found in the eyes of infected rats. Additionally, human ocular cell lines were permissive for Lrp1-dependent RVFV infection. This study experimentally defines viral tropism of RVFV in the posterior segment of the rat eye and characterizes virally-mediated ocular inflammation, providing a foundation for evaluation of vaccines and therapeutics to protect against adverse ocular outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Rift Valley fever
  • aerosol
  • bunyavirus
  • eye disease
  • ocular disease
  • retinitis
  • uveitis


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