Inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and its product, nitric oxide, have been shown to play important roles in wound biology. The present study was performed to investigate the role of iNOS in modulating the cytokine cascade during the complex process of skin graft wound healing. Fifteen iNOS-knockout mice and 15 wild-type C57BL/6J mice were subjected to autogenous 1-cm2 intrascapular full-thickness skin grafts. Three animals in each group were killed on postoperative days 3, 5, 7, 10, and 14. Specimens were then analyzed using nonisotopic in situ hybridization versus mRNA of tumor growth factor-β1, vascular endothelial growth factor, iNOS, endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS), tumor necrosis factor-α, and basic fibroblast growth factor, as well as positive and negative control probes. Positive cells in both grafts and wound beds were counted using a Leica microgrid. Scar thickness was measured with a Leica micrometer. Data were analyzed using the unpaired Student's t test. Expression of iNOS was 2- to 4-fold higher in knockout mice than in wild-type mice on postoperative days 5, 7, and 14. Expression of eNOS was 2- to 2.5-fold higher in knockout mice than in wild-type mice on postoperative days 5 and 7. Tumor necrosis factor-α expression was 2- to 7-fold higher in knockout mice than in wild-type mice on all postoperative days. In contrast, expression levels of angiogenic/fibrogenic cytokines (vascular endothelial growth factor, basis fibroblast growth factor, and tumor growth factor-β1) were 2.5- to 4-fold higher in wild-type mice than in knockout mice. Scars were 1.5- to 2.5-fold thicker in knockout mice than in wild-type mice at all time points. All of the above results represent statistically significant differences (p < 0.05). Significantly different patterns of cytokine expression were seen in knockout and wild-type mice. Although the scar layer was thicker in knockout mice, it showed much greater infiltration with inflammatory cells. These data further delineate the modulatory effect of iNOS and nitric oxide in healing skin grafts.
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