The role of Staphylococcal enterotoxin in atopic keratoconjunctivitis and corneal ulceration


  • Edited by: Hans-Uwe Simon


Hiroshi Fujishima, Department of Ophthalmology, Tsurumi University School of Dental Medicine, 2-1-3 Tsurumi, Tsurumi-ku, Yokohama 230-8501, Japan.

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Patients with atopic eczema frequently experience colonization with Staphylococcus aureus that is directly correlated with the eczema severity. We hypothesized that S. aureus-secreted enterotoxins (SE) are involved in the pathophysiology of atopic keratoconjunctivitis (AKC).


A total of 45 subjects (18 with AKC, nine vernal keratoconjunctivitis (VKC), eight seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC), and ten healthy volunteers) were enrolled. Slit lamp examinations, including fluorescein staining, were performed. Scraped samples were collected from the upper tarsal conjunctiva, lower conjunctival sacs, and the skin around the eyelid margins. Superantigen (SAg) genes were detected using polymerase chain reaction (PCR).


Among 45 cases, S. aureus was detected significantly more in AKC patients than VKC patients (P = 0.026), SAC patients (P = 0.0003), and healthy volunteers (P = 0.0001). SAg genes were detected in 11 patients. SEB (2/11), SEG (8/11), and SEI (8/11) were detected, but no other SE. There was a significant difference in SE detection between AKC and SAC patients (P = 0.03). In severe types of ocular allergic disease such as AKC and VKC (N = 27), SE was detected in six of ten patients with corneal ulcers and two of 17 patients without corneal ulcers. SE was detected in significantly more patients with corneal ulcers (P = 0.025).


In patients with AKC,S. aureus and SE were detected more frequently compared with other patients and healthy volunteers, especially in association with corneal ulceration suggesting a role of SE. So far, it is unknown whether SE leads to tissue damage of the cornea by initiating an immune response or has direct toxic effects.