Cell Biol Toxicol. 2023 Feb 14. doi: 10.1007/s10565-023-09791-z. Online ahead of print.
Dry eye disease (DED) is the most common disease affecting vision and quality of life. PM2.5 was a potential risk of DED. Herein, we conducted animal exposure and cell-based studies to evaluate the pathogenic effect of PM2.5 exposure on the ocular surface and DED etiological mechanisms. C57 mice were exposed to filtered air and PM2.5 aerosol. We assessed health conditions and inflammation of the ocular surface by corneal fluorescein staining and immunohistochemistry. In parallel, cultured human corneal epithelial cells (HCETs) were treated with PM2.5, followed by characterization of cell viability, intracellular ATP level, mitochondrial activities, and expression level of DED relevant mRNA and proteins. In mice, PM2.5 exposure induced severe superficial punctate keratopathy and inflammation in their cornea. In HCETs, cell proliferation and ROS generation followed dose-response and time-dependent manner; meanwhile, mitochondrial ROS (mtROS) level increased and mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) level decreased. Inflammation cascade was triggered even after short-term exposure. The reduction of ATP production was alleviated with Nrf2 overexpression, NF-κB P65 knockdown, or ROS clearance. Nrf2 overexpression and P65 knockdown reduced inflammatory reaction through decreasing expression of P65 and increasing of Nrf2, respectively. They partly alleviated changes of ROS/mtROS/MMP. This research proved that PM2.5 would cause DED-related inflammation reaction on corneal epithelial cells and further explored its mechanism: ROS from mitochondrial dysfunctions of corneal epithelial cells after PM2.5 exposure partly inhibited the expression of anti-inflammatory protein Nrf2 led the activation of inflammatory protein P65 and its downstream molecules, which finally caused inflammation reaction.