Although the wound healing effects of nitric oxide (NO) are known, the mechanism by which NO modulates corneal wound healing remains unclear. In this study, we investigated the effect of exogenous NO donor (NaNO2) on corneal wound healing. We found that NaNO2 (0.1 μM to 100 μM) increased human corneal epithelial cell (HCEC) viability and migration. It also modulated the phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) in a time-dependent manner in those HCECs. Further, p38 MAPK phosphorylation increased at 6 h and normalized at 24 h, while the phosphorylation of extracellular signal regulated kinase (ERK) was increased both at 6 h and 24 h. Topical treatment with NaNO2 (10 μM) enhanced corneal epithelial healing and decreased corneal opacity in murine corneal alkali burn model by modulating inflammatory cytokines. Our findings suggest that NO increased HCEC proliferation and migration via time-dependent MAPK activation and eventually enhanced corneal recovery from the alkali burn.
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