Diabetic keratopathy, a sight-threatening corneal disease, comprises several symptomatic conditions including delayed epithelial wound healing, recurrent erosions, and sensory nerve (SN) neuropathy. We investigated the role of neuropeptides in mediating corneal wound healing, including epithelial wound closure and SN regeneration. Denervation by resiniferatoxin severely impaired corneal wound healing and markedly upregulated proinflammatory gene expression. Exogenous neuropeptides calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), substance P (SP), and vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) partially reversed resiniferatoxin’s effects, with VIP specifically inducing interleukin-10 expression. Hence, we focused on VIP and observed that wounding induced VIP and VIP type 1 receptor (VIPR1) expression in normal (NL) corneas, but not corneas from mice with diabetes mellitus (DM). Targeting VIPR1 in NL corneas attenuated corneal wound healing, dampened wound-induced expression of neurotrophic factors, and exacerbated inflammatory responses, while exogenous VIP had the opposite effects in DM corneas. Remarkably, wounding and diabetes also affected the expression of Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) in a VIP-dependent manner. Downregulating Shh expression in NL corneas decreased while exogenous Shh in DM corneas increased the rates of corneal wound healing. Furthermore, inhibition of Shh signaling dampened VIP-promoted corneal wound healing. We conclude that VIP regulates epithelial wound healing, inflammatory response, and nerve regeneration in the corneas in an Shh-dependent manner, suggesting a therapeutic potential for these molecules in treating diabetic keratopathy.
- Received August 30, 2019.
- Accepted April 20, 2020.
- © 2020 by the American Diabetes Association