Sulfur mustard, nitrogen mustard (NM), and 2-chloroethyl ethyl sulfide all cause corneal injury with epithelial-stromal separation, differing only by degree. Injury can resolve in a few weeks or develop into chronic corneal problems. These vesicants induce microbullae at the epithelial-stromal junction, which is partially caused by cleavage of transmembranous hemidesmosomal collagen XVII, a component anchoring the epithelium to the stroma. ADAM17 is an enzyme involved in wound healing and is able to cleave collagen XVII. The activity of ADAM17 was inhibited in vesicant-exposed corneas by four different hydroxamates, to evaluate their therapeutic potential when applied 2 hours after exposure, thereby allowing ADAM17 to perform its early steps in wound healing.
Rabbit corneal organ cultures exposed to NM for 2 hours were washed, then incubated at 37°C for 22 hours, with or without one of the four hydroxamates (dose range, 0.3-100 nmol in 20 μL, applied four times). Corneas were analyzed by light and immunofluorescence microscopy, and ADAM17 activity assays.
Nitrogen mustard-induced corneal injury showed significant activation of ADAM17 levels accompanying epithelial-stromal detachment. Corneas treated with hydroxamates starting 2 hours post exposure showed a dose-dependent ADAM17 activity inhibition up to concentrations of 3 nmol. Of the four hydroxamates, NDH4417 (N-octyl-N-hydroxy-2-[4-hydroxy-3-methoxyphenyl] acetamide) was most effective for inhibiting ADAM17 and retaining epithelial-stromal attachment.
Mustard exposure leads to corneal epithelial sloughing caused, in part, by the activation of ADAM17 at the epithelial-stromal junction. Select hydroxamate compounds applied 2 hours after NM exposure mitigated epithelial-stromal separation.