Primary ocular herpes is usually seen as a follicular conjunctivitis and blepharitis, with or without involvement of the cornea. It is unknown, however, to what extent asymptomatic and/or subclinical primary disease occurs, and whether primary ocular herpes follows direct droplet spread to the eye. Previous models of murine ocular herpes have used trauma (scarification) to introduce virus into the cornea, producing disease which results in significant corneal scarring. To mimic a likely route of infection in humans, a droplet containing virus was placed on the mouse eye and clinical disease recorded. At least 1 month after inoculation, serum was assayed for neutralising antibodies and the cornea, iris, and trigeminal ganglion were investigated for evidence of herpes simplex virus type 1, by cocultivation and the polymerase chain reaction. Some animals showed a severe ulcerative blepharitis with little to no involvement of the cornea, while disease was undetectable in others. The development of disease depended on the dose and strain of virus and age of the animal, with older mice appearing more resistant. Virus was isolated from the trigeminal ganglion of younger animals inoculated with higher doses of virus, after 21 days in culture, suggesting that latency had been established. Neutralising antibodies were present in most mice irrespective of the presence of recognisable clinical disease. Using primers for the thymidine kinase and glycoprotein C regions of the viral genome, herpes simplex virus type 1 DNA was found in the cornea, iris, and trigeminal ganglion of most animals and showed a good correlation with the presence of neutralising antibodies. It would thus appear that herpes simplex virus type 1 is able to accede into the cornea, iris, and trigeminal ganglion following nontraumatic application of virus onto the mouse eye. This model mimics primary ocular disease in humans and may be useful for studies on recurrent disease and the spread of ocular herpes.
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