Inflammation of the corneal stroma (stromal keratitis) is a serious complication of infection with the nematode parasite Onchocerca volvulus. Because stromal keratitis is believed to be immunologically mediated in humans, we used a murine model to examine the role of T cells and T helper cell cytokines in the immunopathogenesis of these eye lesions. BALB/c mice immunized subcutaneously and injected intrastromally with soluble O. volvulus antigens (OvAg) developed pronounced corneal opacification and neovascularization. The corneal stroma was edematous and contained numerous eosinophils and mononuclear cells. Stromal keratitis in immunized mice was determined to be T cell dependent based on the following observations: (a) T cell-deficient nude mice immunized and injected intrastromally with OvAg fail to develop corneal pathology; and (b) adoptive transfer of spleen cells from OvAg-immunized BALB/c mice to naive nude mice before intrastromal injection of OvAg results in development of keratitis. OvAg-stimulated lymph node and spleen cell cytokine production was dependent on CD4 cells and included interleukin (IL)-4 and IL-5, but not interferon gamma, indicating a predominant T helper type 2 cell-like response. Inflamed corneas from immunized BALB/c mice and from reconstituted nude mice had greatly elevated CD4 and IL-4 gene expression compared with interferon gamma. Mice in which the IL-4 gene was disrupted failed to develop corneal disease, demonstrating that IL-4 is essential in the immunopathogenesis of O. volvulus-mediated stromal keratitis.

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