We evaluated the effects of ambient particulate matter (PM) on the corneal epithelium using a reconstructed human corneal epithelium (HCE) model. We collected two PM size fractions [aerodynamic diameter smaller than 2.4 µm: PM0.3–2.4 and larger than 2.4 µm: PM>2.4] and exposed these tissues to PM concentrations of 1, 10, and 100 µg/mL for 24 h. After exposure, cell viability and interleukin (IL) IL-6 and IL-8 levels were determined, and haematoxylin and eosin and immunofluorescence staining of the zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1) were performed on tissue sections. In addition, the effects of a certified reference material of urban aerosols (UA; 100 µg/mL) were also examined as a reference. The viability of cells exposed to 100 μg/mL UA and PM>2.4 decreased to 76.2% ± 7.4 and 75.4% ± 16.1, respectively, whereas PM0.3–2.4 exposure had a limited effect on cell viability. These particles did not increase IL-6 and IL-8 levels significantly even though cell viability was decreased in 100 μg/mL UA and PM>2.4. ZO-1 expression was reduced in a dose-dependent manner in all groups. Reconstructed HCE could be used as an in vitro model to study the effects of environmental PM exposure on ocular surface cell viability and inflammation.
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