Recently, we have discovered an endogenous cholinergic pathway for angiogenesis mediated by endothelial nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). Since angiogenesis plays a major role in wound repair, we hypothesized that activation of nAChRs with nicotine would accelerate wound healing in a murine excisional wound model. In genetically diabetic and control mice full-thickness skin wounds (0.8 cm) were created on the dorsum and topically treated over 7 days with either vehicle (phosphate-buffered saline, PBS) or nicotine (10(-8) mol/L, 10(-9) mol/L; each, n = 5). Wound size was measured over 14 days followed by resection, histological analysis, and quantitation of vascularity. In diabetic animals an agonist (epibatidine, 10(-10) mol/L) or antagonist (hexamethonium, 10(-4) mol/L) of nAChRs as well as the positive control basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF, 25 microg/kg) were also tested. To further study the role of endothelial nAChRs in angiogenesis, we used an ex vivo vascular explant model. In diabetic mice wound healing was markedly impaired. Nicotine significantly accelerated wound healing as assessed by closure rate and histological score. The effects of nicotine were equal to bFGF and were mimicked by epibatidine and blocked by hexamethonium. Histomorphometry revealed increased neovascularization in animals treated with nicotine. Furthermore, capillary-like sprouting from vascular explants was significantly enhanced by nicotine. In conclusion, agonist-induced stimulation of nAChRs accelerates wound healing in diabetic mice by promoting angiogenesis. We have discovered a cholinergic pathway for angiogenesis that is involved in wound healing, and which is a potential target for therapeutic angiogenesis.