Dry eye formation often originates from oxidative damage to the ocular surface, which can be caused by external environment or internal pathologic factors. Esculetin (6, 7-dihydroxycoumarin) is a natural product found in many plants, and has been reported to have multiple pharmacological activities. The objective of our present study is to investigate if esculetin could protect the corneal epithelial cells from oxidative damages and its underlying antioxidant molecular mechanisms. Our experimental results demonstrated that pretreatment with esculetin markedly increased the cell viability while decreased the apoptosis in HO-treated human corneal epithelial (HCE) cells, by regulating Bcl-2, Bax and caspase-3 protein expressions and by altering the imbalance of activities of intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) and superoxide dismutase (SOD). Our data revealed that esculetin played an antioxidant role not only through its antioxidant activity, but also by highly inducing Nrf-2 translocation to the nucleus, which in turn, enhanced Nrf2 signaling regulated antioxidant genes (HO-1, NQO1, GCLM, SOD1 and SOD2) mRNA expression levels in HO-treated HCE cells. In the present study, the protective effects of esculetin on the corneal epithelium were also confirmed by a murine desiccating stress induced dry eye model in vivo. These data illustrated, for the first time, that esculetin may have the ability to protect human corneal epithelial cells from oxidative damages through its scavenging of free radical properties and through the activation of Nrf2 signaling.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier Ltd.