Peripheral neuropathy is the most frequent neurological complication of HIV infection, affecting more than one-third of infected patients, including patients treated with antiretroviral therapy. Although emerging noninvasive techniques for corneal nerve assessments are increasingly being used to diagnose and monitor peripheral neuropathies, corneal nerve alterations have not been characterized in HIV. Here, to determine whether SIV infection leads to corneal nerve fiber loss, we immunostained corneas for the nerve fiber marker βIII tubulin. We developed and applied both manual and automated methods to measure nerves in the corneal subbasal plexus. These counting methods independently indicated significantly lower subbasal corneal nerve fiber density among SIV-infected animals that rapidly progressed to AIDS compared with slow progressors. Concomitant with decreased corneal nerve fiber density, rapid progressors had increased levels of SIV RNA and CD68-positive macrophages and expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein by glial satellite cells in the trigeminal ganglia, the location of the neuronal cell bodies of corneal sensory nerve fibers. In addition, corneal nerve fiber density was directly correlated with epidermal nerve fiber length. These findings indicate that corneal nerve assessment has great potential to diagnose and monitor HIV-induced peripheral neuropathy and to set the stage for introducing noninvasive techniques to measure corneal nerve fiber density in HIV clinical settings.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine