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In the eye of the ophthalmologist: the corneal microbiome in microbial keratitis.

PURPOSE: To describe the bacterial findings by a targeted sequencing approach from corneal samples of patients with microbial keratitis and factors influencing culture outcome of indirectly inoculated corneal specimen.

METHODS: Prospective inclusion of patients fulfilling predefined criteria of microbial keratitis. Samples from the corneal lesion were collected and dispensed in liquid transport medium, from which both culture and targeted amplification and sequencing of the V3-V4 region of the 16S rRNA gene were carried out. Additional standard corneal culture from the corneal lesions was also performed. Factors influencing culture outcome of indirectly inoculated corneal samples were identified by a multivariate regression model incorporating quantitative data from sequencing.

RESULTS: Among the 94 included patients with microbial keratitis, contact lens wear (n = 69; 73%) was the most common risk factor. Contact lens wearers displayed significant differences in the bacterial community composition of the corneal lesion compared to no lens wearers, with higher abundance of Staphylococcus spp., Corynebacterium spp., and Stenotrophomonas maltophilia. Targeted sequencing detected a potential corneal pathogen in the highest proportional abundance among 9 of the 24 (38%) culture-negative patients with microbial keratitis. Age, bacterial density in the sample, and prior antibiotic treatment significantly influenced culture outcome of indirectly inoculated corneal samples.

CONCLUSION: Targeted sequencing may provide insights on pathogens in both culture negative episodes of microbial keratitis and among subgroups of patients with microbial keratitis as well as factors influencing culture outcome of indirectly inoculated corneal samples.

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