Purpose: To investigate the effects of insulin and leptin on in vitro wound healing of transformed human corneal epithelial cell monolayers and to identify cellular (migration versus proliferation) and intracellular signaling mechanisms.
Methods: Scratch wounds were created in monolayers of an immortalized human corneal epithelial cell (HCEC) line. The wounded monolayers were exposed to insulin and leptin. Wound areas were measured every hour after wounding for up to 8 hours. Phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3-kinase) and mitogen-activated protein (MAP)-kinase signaling was analyzed with Western blot. The actions of insulin were also examined after incubation with inhibitors to extracellular signal regulated kinase (ERK 1/2) and PI3-kinase.
Results: The presence of insulin, but not leptin facilitated closure of wounds created in corneal epithelial cell monolayers. Phosphorylation of ERK 1/2 and Akt was stimulated after exposure of the monolayers to insulin. Inhibitors of PI3-kinase and ERK 1/2 prevented or reduced insulin-induced corneal wound healing, respectively.
Conclusions: Exposure of corneal epithelium to insulin facilitated closure of in vitro small wounds through enhanced cell migration instead of proliferation, which depended on ERK 1/2 and PI3-kinase signaling. These data suggest a mechanism by which insulin may influence corneal wound healing in vitro. In vivo, disruptions to the insulin signaling pathway observed in diseases such as diabetes might account for the delayed wound healing and corneal defects.