• corneal nigrum;
  • corneal sequestrum;
  • polymerase chain reaction;
  • transmission electron microscopy


Objectives  (1) To describe the ultrastructural features of corneal sequestra in cats; and (2) to enhance our understanding regarding the pathogenesis of feline corneal sequestration.

Methods  Nine corneal sequestra were harvested via keratectomy from globes of nine cats. The sequestra were routinely fixed then postfixed for high resolution light and transmission electron microscopy (HR-LM and TEM, respectively). The tissues were embedded in Epon/Araldite. Sections of 0.5-µm thickness were cut and stained with 1% toluidine blue in 1% sodium tetraborate solution for HR-LM. Ultrathin sections were collected on copper grids and stained with uranyl acetate and Sato's lead stain for TEM. Ultrathin sections were examined and the images were captured on an Advantage HR CCD camera using a Hitachi 7500 electron microscope operated at 80 kV. Two healthy corneas from two cats were harvested immediately following euthanasia. These corneal tissues (control samples) were processed in the same manner as the corneal sequestra for HR-LM and TEM. A portion of each sequestrum was also submitted for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing for infectious agents including feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1), Toxoplasma gondii, Chlamydophila felis and Mycoplasma spp.

Results  Ultrastructure of healthy corneal tissues revealed basal corneal epithelial cells aligned adjacent to a thin acellular layer similar to Bowman's layer with underlying tightly packed, regularly arranged, collagen fibrils oriented in different planes. Keratocytes were elongated and had long and irregularly shaped nuclei, and cytoplasm contained rough endoplasmic reticulum and abundant membrane-bound vesicles. In contrast, corneal sequestra contained varying amounts of an amorphous, electron-dense substance, continuous with intact basal epithelial basement membranes peripherally, and overlying corneal ulceration and loosely packed collagen fibrils. Remnants of necrotic keratocytes were seen in spaces between disarranged collagen layers. In all samples, occasional keratocytes exhibited morphology indicative of apoptosis including clumping and margination of chromatin, and shrunken cytoplasm. Varying degrees of inflammation were noted on HR-LM and TEM of affected corneas including peri- and intralesional neutrophils, lymphocytes, plasma cells, and macrophages. Corneal sequestra were FHV-1-positive (n = 3), FHV-1- and T. gondii-positive (n = 1), T. gondii-positive (n = 3), or negative for DNA of these infectious agents (n = 2) using PCR. All corneal sequestra were negative for DNA of Chlamydophila felis and Mycoplasma spp. using PCR.

Conclusions  Apoptosis may play a role in the pathogenesis of feline corneal sequestration independent of the presence of DNA of these infectious organisms. Prospective clinical studies are warranted to further understand the significance of T. gondii in relation to feline corneal sequestration.