Altered Corneal Innervation and Ocular Surface Homeostasis in FHV-1-Exposed Cats: A Preliminary Study Suggesting Metaherpetic Disease

Sebbag, Lionel
Thomasy, Sara
Leland, Adriana
Mukai, Madison
Kim, Soohyun
Maggs, David
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Veterinary Clinical Sciences

Metaherpetic disease is recognized in humans affected by herpes simplex virus-1 but is not reported in cats affected by feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1) despite the high prevalence of herpetic disease in this species and strong similarities in viral biology between alphaherpesviruses of humans and cats. This preliminary work evaluated cats naïve to FHV-1 (n = 9 cats, 18 eyes; control population) and cats naturally exposed to FHV-1 (n = 4 cats, 7 eyes), as confirmed by serologic testing and review of medical records. Antemortem assessment included clinical scoring, blink rate, corneal aesthesiometry, tear film breakup time (TFBUT), and Schirmer tear test-1 (STT-1) with or without the nasolacrimal reflex. Post-mortem assessment involved confocal microscopy of the corneas and evaluation of corneal nerves with ImageJ. Groups were compared with Student's t-tests and results are presented as mean ± standard deviation. Compared to control, herpetic cats had significantly higher (P ≤ 0.010) clinical scores (0.2 ± 0.4 vs. 4.6 ± 2.8) and response to nasolacrimal stimulation (7.8 ± 10.8% vs. 104.8 ± 151.1%), significantly lower (P < 0.001) corneal sensitivity (2.9 ± 0.6 cm vs. 1.4 ± 0.9 cm), STT-1 (20.8 ± 2.6 mm/min vs. 10.6 ± 6.0 mm/min), TFBUT (12.1 ± 2.0 s vs. 7.1 ± 2.9 s), and non-significantly lower blink rate (3.0 ± 1.5 blinks/min vs. 2.7 ± 0.5 blinks/min; P = 0.751). All parameters evaluated for corneal nerves (e.g., nerve fiber length, branching, occupancy) were notably but not significantly lower in herpetic vs. control cats (P ≥ 0.268). In sum, cats exposed to FHV-1 had signs suggestive of corneal hypoesthesia and quantitative/qualitative tear film deficiencies when compared to cats naïve to the virus. It is possible these are signs of metaherpetic disease as reported in other species.


This article is published as Sebbag, Lionel, Sara M. Thomasy, Adriana Leland, Madison Mukai, Soohyun Kim, and David J. Maggs. "Altered Corneal Innervation and Ocular Surface Homeostasis in FHV-1-Exposed Cats: A Preliminary Study Suggesting Metaherpetic Disease." Frontiers in Veterinary Science 7 (2021): 580414. DOI: 10.3389/fvets.2020.580414. Posted with permission.