Purpose: In mammalian corneal epithelium, mitosis shows a distinct circadian pattern. However, how this circadian pattern is maintained, and how it or its disruption influence renewal and regeneration remain unclear.
Methods: C57BL/6 mice were maintained under 12-hour light/12-hour dark (LD), 12-hour light/12-hour light (LL), 12-hour dark/12-hour dark (DD), or reversed LD (DL, 12-hour dark/12-hour light; jet-lag defined as a shift of 12 hours) conditions. Mitotic cells in corneal epithelium were enumerated and analyzed via immunofluorescence at different zeitgeber times (ZTs). Expression of core clock genes (Clock, Bmal1, Period2, Cry1, and Rev-erbα) was qualified via quantitative RT-PCR. The rate and quality of healing at different ZT times and after administration of two small-molecule modifiers of the circadian clock, KL001 and SR8278, was evaluated.
Results: In this study, photic cues were found to influence the 24-hour rhythm of corneal clock gene expression and epithelial cell mitosis in mice. Disruption of the circadian clock by exposure to constant light, constant dark, or jet-lag conditions modified the normal 24-hour patterns of corneal epithelial mitosis and corneal clock gene expression. The time of day of wound occurrence affected the rate and quality of corneal healing, with both of these parameters peaking during the more mitotically active hours of the morning. The two small-molecule modifiers of the circadian clock, KL001 and SR8278, had negative and positive effects on corneal wound healing, respectively.
Conclusions: Circadian rhythms significantly influence corneal epithelium renewal and repair in mice. Our findings reveal possible opportunities for biological rhythm-based interventional strategies to control corneal healing and restore corneal homeostasis.