PURPOSE: Bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) hold great promise for wound healing and tissue regeneration. In the present study, we investigated the impact of corneal injury on the homeostasis of endogenous MSCs, and the potential of MSCs to home to injured tissue and promote corneal repair. METHODS: Corneal injury in mice was induced by thermal cauterization. Circulating MSCs were quantified by flow cytometric analysis. Ex vivo expanded red Q-dot-labeled or GFP+ bone marrow-derived MSCs were intravenously injected after injury and detected using epifluorescence microscopy. Corneal fluorescein staining was performed to evaluate epithelial regeneration. RESULTS: Following the induction of corneal injury in mice, a 2-fold increase in the frequency of circulating endogenous MSCs was observed within 48 hours of injury, which was accompanied by increased levels of the stem cell chemoattractants, substance P and SDF-1, in both the injured cornea and blood. Systemically administered MSCs homed to the injured cornea, but not to the normal cornea, and showed long-term survival. In addition, in the setting of corneal injury, MSC administration showed significant and rapid corneal epithelial regeneration. CONCLUSIONS: These findings provide novel evidence that corneal injury causes significant mobilization of endogenous MSCs into blood, and that MSCs home specifically to the injured cornea and promote regeneration, highlighting the therapeutic implications of MSC-mediated tissue repair in corneal injury.