Purpose: Corneal alkali injury is highly caustic, and present clinical therapies are limited. The purpose of this study was to investigate the ability of thymosin-beta4 (Taubeta4) to promote healing in an alkali injury model and the mechanisms involved in that process.
Methods: Corneas of BALB/c mice were injured with NaOH, irrigated copiously with PBS, and treated topically with either Tbeta4 or PBS twice daily. At various time points after injury (PI), corneas from the Tbeta4- versus the PBS-treated group were examined for polymorphonuclear leukocyte (PMN) infiltration, chemokine, and matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)/tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase (TIMP) expression.
Results: Tbeta4-treated corneas demonstrated improved corneal clarity at day 7 PI. Whereas Tbeta4 decreased corneal MMP-2 and -9 and MT6-MMP levels after alkali injury, no change in TIMP-1 and -2 expression was detected. Tbeta4 treatment also decreased corneal KC (CXCL1) and macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-2 chemokine expression and PMN infiltration. Immunohistochemistry studies demonstrated MMP-9 expression at the leading edge of the epithelial wound, in the the limbus (containing stem cells), and in stromal PMNs.
Conclusions: Tbeta4 treatment decreases corneal inflammation and modulates the MMP/TIMP balance and thereby promotes corneal wound repair and clarity after alkali injury. These results suggest that Tbeta4 may be useful clinically to treat severe inflammation-mediated corneal injuries.