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Microbial communities are important for the health of mucosal tissues. Traditional culture and gene sequencing have demonstrated bacterial populations on the conjunctiva. However, it remains unclear if the cornea, a transparent tissue critical for vision, also hosts a microbiome. Corneas of wild-type, IL-1R (-/-) and MyD88 (-/-) C57BL/6 mice were imaged after labeling with alkyne-functionalized D-alanine (alkDala), a probe that only incorporates into the peptidoglycan of metabolically active bacteria. Fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) was also used to detect viable bacteria. AlkDala labeling was rarely observed on healthy corneas. In contrast, adjacent conjunctivae harbored filamentous alkDala-positive forms, that also labeled with DMN-Tre, a Corynebacterineae-specific probe. FISH confirmed the absence of viable bacteria on healthy corneas, which also cleared deliberately inoculated bacteria within 24 h. Differing from wild-type, both IL-1R (-/-) and MyD88 (-/-) corneas harbored numerous alkDala-labeled bacteria, a result abrogated by topical antibiotics. IL-1R (-/-) corneas were impermeable to fluorescein suggesting that bacterial colonization did not reflect decreased epithelial integrity. Thus, in contrast to the conjunctiva and other mucosal surfaces, healthy murine corneas host very few viable bacteria, and this constitutive state requires the IL-1R and MyD88. While this study cannot exclude the presence of fungi, viruses, or non-viable or dormant bacteria, the data suggest that healthy murine corneas do not host a resident viable bacterial community, or microbiome, the absence of which could have important implications for understanding the homeostasis of this tissue.

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Originally published in Frontiers in Microbiology, 9 [Article 1117]. The original material can be found here.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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