Corneal and Ocular Immunology Unit

Research Overview


Our research is aimed at understanding how corneal epithelial cells, immune cells and sensory nerves interact to achieve homeostasis and rapid recovery following injury, exposure to noxious stimuli and during normal ageing. Our laboratory is based in the Melbourne Brain Centre, where we have access to a suite of state-of-the-art instruments to enable in vivo clinical imaging of the mouse eye, along with ex vivo imaging of corneas, tissue culture and molecular biology techniques.

Corneal immune cells

The mouse and human cornea contains populations of resident immune cells such as macrophages and dendritic cells. These cells play an important role in generating innate inflammatory responses against microbial pathogens and sterile injurious stimuli, as well as interacting with the dense population of sensory nerves that supply the corneal epithelium.

Neuroimmune interactions

Recent studies suggest that corneal dendritic cells are closely associated with corneal sensory nerves. The nature of this relationship is thought to be spatial (i.e. the two entities are physically in contact), physiological (dendritic cells are thought to promote nerve homeostasis) and immunological (i.e. nerve stimulation affects dendritic cell activation). We have a range of active projects in the lab investigating the interplay of corneal sensory nerves and the effect that tissue injury and exposure to noxious stimuli has on the activation state of the resident immune cells.

Major techniques:

  • In vivo clinical imaging of corneal inflammation using spectral domain optical coherence tomography
  • Ex vivo confocal imaging of immunostained tissues, 3D reconstruction and image analysis
  • Live cell imaging of corneal immune cells
  • Gene and protein expression of chemokines, cytokines and neuropeptides

Other research interests:

  • Membrane nanotubes in mammalian tissues and their responsiveness to stress signals.
  • Distribution and phenotype of monocyte-derived cells in the mouse choroid plexus and meninges.
  • Responsiveness of corneal nerve-associated macrophages to peripheral injurious stimuli.
  • Retinal and intraocular inflammation as a result of corneal and anterior segment inflammatory events in the mouse eye.



Helen Jiao (Post - doctoral fellow)


Manikkuwadura De Silva (PhD student)

Kirthana Senthil (Master of Biomedical Science student)

Mengliang Wu (PhD student)


  • Dr Laura Downie, Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences, University of Melbourne
  • Dr Lisa Hill, Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, University of Birmingham
  • Prof Paul McMenamin, Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, Monash University
  • Dr Samantha Dando, School of Biomedical Sciences and Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation


This lab has been funded by the NH&MRC since 2013.


Corneal macrophages (red) located beneath the epithelial
nerve plexus (gray) in the central mouse cornea.

Corneal nerve  A false coloured depth projection of the epithelial nerve plexus in the
central cornea of a mouse.
Dendritic cells Iba-1+ CD45+ dendritic cells (yellow) interacting with CD45+ myeloid cells
(red) in the epithelium of the mouse cornea.
OCT normal mouse eye  

A cross-sectional view of the mouse anterior segment imaged using spectral
domain optical coherence tomography.

Research Outcomes

Research Projects

For project inquiries, contact our research group head.

Faculty Research Themes

Infection and Immunology

School Research Themes

Immunology and Inflammation

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact Lab Director Dr Holly Chinnery

Department / Centre

Optometry and Vision Sciences

Unit / Centre

Corneal and Ocular Immunology Unit

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