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1.  Thymosin Beta4 Regulates Cardiac Valve Formation Via Endothelial-Mesenchymal Transformation in Zebrafish Embryos 
Molecules and Cells  2014;37(4):330-336.
Thymosin beta4 (TB4) has multiple functions in cellular response in processes as diverse as embryonic organ development and the pathogeneses of disease, especially those associated with cardiac coronary vessels. However, the specific roles played by TB4 during heart valve development in vertebrates are largely unknown. Here, we identified a novel function of TB4 in endothelialmesenchymal transformation (EMT) in cardiac valve endocardial cushions in zebrafish. The expressions of thymosin family members in developing zebrafish embryos were determined by whole mount in situ hybridization. Of the thymosin family members only zTB4 was expressed in the developing heart region. Cardiac valve development at 48 h post fertilization was defected in zebrafish TB4 (zTB4) morpholino-injected embryos (morphants). In zTB4 morphants, abnormal linear heart tube development was observed. The expressions of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) 4, notch1b, and hyaluronic acid synthase (HAS) 2 genes were also markedly reduced in atrio-ventricular canal (AVC). Endocardial cells in the AVC region were stained with anti-Zn5 antibody reactive against Dm-grasp (an EMT marker) to observe EMT in developing cardiac valves in zTB4 morphants. EMT marker expression in valve endothelial cells was confirmed after transfection with TB4 siRNA in the presence of transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) by RT-PCR and immunofluorescent assay. Zn5-positive endocardial AVC cells were not observed in zTB4 morphants, and knockdown of TB4 suppressed TGF-β-induced EMT in ovine valve endothelial cells. Taken together, our results demonstrate that TB4 plays a pivotal role in cardiac valve formation by increasing EMT.
PMCID: PMC4012082  PMID: 24732964
endothelial-mesenchymal transformation; heart valve formation; thymosin beta4; zebrafish
2.  Chondroitin sulfate expression is required for cardiac AV canal formation 
Defects in cardiac valvulogenesis are a common cause of congenital heart disease, and the study of this process promises to provide mechanistic insights and lead to novel therapeutics. Normal valve development involves multiple signaling pathways, and recently roles have been identified for extracellular matrix components, including glycosaminoglycans. We therefore explored the role of the glycosaminoglycan chondroitin sulfate during zebrafish cardiac development. Beginning at 33 hours, there is a distinct zone of chondroitin sulfate expression in the atrioventricular (AV) boundary, in the cardiac jelly between the endocardium and myocardium. This expression is both spatially and temporally restricted, and is undetectable after 48 hours. Chemical as well as genetic inhibition of chondroitin synthesis results in AV canal defects, including loss of the atrioventricular constriction, blood regurgitation, and failure of circulation. Lack of chondroitin disrupts a marker of cell migration, results in a loss of myocardial and endothelial markers of valvulogenesis, and misregulates BMP expression, supporting an early role in AV canal development. In summary, we have defined a requirement for chondroitin sulfate expression in the normal patterning of the AV boundary, suggesting that this component of the cardiac jelly provides a necessary signal in this critical transition in vertebrate cardiogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2852642  PMID: 19890913
Cardiac Valve; Cardiac Development; Chondroitin Sulfate; Extracellular Matrix; Cardiac Jelly; Epithelial to mesenchymal transition; Zebrafish
3.  Integration of a Notch-dependent mesenchymal gene program and Bmp2-driven cell invasiveness regulates murine cardiac valve formation 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2010;120(10):3493-3507.
Cardiac valve formation is crucial for embryonic and adult heart function. Valve malformations constitute the most common congenital cardiac defect, but little is known about the molecular mechanisms regulating valve formation and homeostasis. Here, we show that endocardial Notch1 and myocardial Bmp2 signal integration establish a valve-forming field between 2 chamber developmental domains. Patterning occurs through the activation of endocardial epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) exclusively in prospective valve territories. Mice with constitutive endocardial Notch1 activity ectopically express Hey1 and Heyl. They also display an activated mesenchymal gene program in ventricles and a partial (noninvasive) EMT in vitro that becomes invasive upon BMP2 treatment. Snail1, TGF-β2, or Notch1 inhibition reduces BMP2-induced ventricular transformation and invasion, whereas BMP2 treatment inhibits endothelial Gsk3β, stabilizing Snail1 and promoting invasiveness. Integration of Notch and Bmp2 signals is consistent with Notch1 signaling being attenuated after myocardial Bmp2 deletion. Notch1 activation in myocardium extends Hey1 expression to nonchamber myocardium, represses Bmp2, and impairs EMT. In contrast, Notch deletion abrogates endocardial Hey gene transcription and extends Bmp2 expression to the ventricular endocardium. This embryonic Notch1-Bmp2-Snail1 relationship may be relevant in adult valve disease, in which decreased NOTCH signaling causes valve mesenchyme cell formation, fibrosis, and calcification.
PMCID: PMC2947227  PMID: 20890042
4.  Functional BMP receptor in Endocardial Cells is Required in Atrioventricular Cushion Mesenchymal Cell Formation in Chick 
Developmental biology  2007;306(1):179-192.
Transformation of atrioventricular (AV) canal endocardium into invasive mesenchyme correlates spatially and temporally with the expression of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)-2 in the AV myocardium. We revealed the presence of mRNA of Type I BMP receptors, BMPR-1A (ALK3), BMPR-1B (ALK6) and ALK2 in chick AV endocardium at stage-14−, the onset of epithelial to mesenchymal transformation (EMT), by RT-PCR and localized BMPR-1B mRNA in the endocardium by in situ hybridization. To circumvent the functional redundancies among the Type I BMP receptors, we applied dominant-negative (dn) BMPR-1B–viruses to chick AV explants and whole-chick embryo cultures to specifically block BMP signaling in AV endocardium during EMT. dnBMPR-1B–virus infection of AV endocardial cells abolished BMP-2-supported AV endocardial EMT. Conversely, caBMPR-1B–virus infection promoted AV endocardial EMT in the absence of AV myocardium. Moreover, dnBMPR-1B–virus treatments significantly reduced myocardially supported EMT in AV endocardial-myocardial co-culture. AV cushion mesenchymal cell markers, α-smooth muscle actin (SMA), and TGFβ3 in the endocardial cells were promoted by caBMPR-1B and reduced by dnBMPR-1B infection. Microinjection of the virus into the cardiac jelly in the AV canal at stage-13 in vivo (ovo) revealed that the dnBMPR-1B–virus-infected cells remained in the endocardial epithelium, whereas caBMPR-1B–infected invaded deep into the cushions. These results provide evidence that BMP signaling through the AV endocardium is required for the EMT and the activation of the BMP receptor in the endocardium can promote AV EMT in the chick.
PMCID: PMC3726023  PMID: 17449024
Bone morphogenetic; protein receptor; heart; atrioventricular cushion; retroviral gene transfer; epithelial-mesenchymal transformation
5.  Atrioventricular cushion transformation is mediated by ALK2 in the developing mouse heart 
Developmental biology  2005;286(1):299-310.
Developmental abnormalities in endocardial cushions frequently contribute to congenital heart malformations including septal and valvular defects. While compelling evidence has been presented to demonstrate that members of the TGF-β superfamily are capable of inducing endothelial-to-mesenchymal transdifferentiation in the atrioventricular canal, and thus play a key role in formation of endocardial cushions, the detailed signaling mechanisms of this important developmental process, especially in vivo, are still poorly known. Several type I receptors (ALKs) for members of the TGF-β superfamily are expressed in the myocardium and endocardium of the developing heart, including the atrioventricular canal. However, analysis of their functional role during mammalian development has been significantly complicated by the fact that deletion of the type I receptors in mouse embryos often leads to early embryonal lethality. Here, we used the Cre/loxP system for endothelial-specific deletion of the type I receptor Alk2 in mouse embryos. The endothelial-specific Alk2 mutant mice display defects in atrioventricular septa and valves, which result from a failure of endocardial cells to appropriately transdifferentiate into the mesenchyme in the AV canal. Endocardial cells deficient in Alk2 demonstrate decreased expression of Msx1 and Snail, and reduced phosphorylation of BMP and TGF-β Smads. Moreover, we show that endocardial cells lacking Alk2 fail to delaminate from AV canal explants. Collectively, these results indicate that the BMP type I receptor ALK2 in endothelial cells plays a critical non-redundant role in early phases of endocardial cushion formation during cardiac morphogenesis.
PMCID: PMC1361261  PMID: 16140292
Atrioventricular cushion; ALK2; BMP; TGF-β; Transformation; Cardiac development
6.  3-OST-7 Regulates BMP-Dependent Cardiac Contraction 
PLoS Biology  2013;11(12):e1001727.
During zebrafish cardiac development, 3-OST-7 constrains BMP signaling to the atrioventricular junction and precludes it from contractile myocardium, allowing tropomyosin-dependent sarcomere assembly and contraction.
The 3-O-sulfotransferase (3-OST) family catalyzes rare modifications of glycosaminoglycan chains on heparan sulfate proteoglycans, yet their biological functions are largely unknown. Knockdown of 3-OST-7 in zebrafish uncouples cardiac ventricular contraction from normal calcium cycling and electrophysiology by reducing tropomyosin4 (tpm4) expression. Normal 3-OST-7 activity prevents the expansion of BMP signaling into ventricular myocytes, and ectopic activation of BMP mimics the ventricular noncontraction phenotype seen in 3-OST-7 depleted embryos. In 3-OST-7 morphants, ventricular contraction can be rescued by overexpression of tropomyosin tpm4 but not by troponin tnnt2, indicating that tpm4 serves as a lynchpin for ventricular sarcomere organization downstream of 3-OST-7. Contraction can be rescued by expression of 3-OST-7 in endocardium, or by genetic loss of bmp4. Strikingly, BMP misregulation seen in 3-OST-7 morphants also occurs in multiple cardiac noncontraction models, including potassium voltage-gated channel gene, kcnh2, affected in Romano-Ward syndrome and long-QT syndrome, and cardiac troponin T gene, tnnt2, affected in human cardiomyopathies. Together these results reveal 3-OST-7 as a key component of a novel pathway that constrains BMP signaling from ventricular myocytes, coordinates sarcomere assembly, and promotes cardiac contractile function.
Author Summary
A highly complex environment at the cell surface and in the space between cells is thought to modulate cell behavior. Heparan sulfate proteoglycans are cell surface and extracellular matrix molecules that are covalently linked to long chains of repeating sugar units called glycosaminoglycan chains. These chains can be subjected to rare modifications and they are believed to influence specific cell signaling events in a lineage specific fashion in what is called the “glycocode.” Here we explore the functions of one member of a family of enzymes, 3-O-sulfotransferases (3-OSTs) that catalyzes a rare modification (3-O-sulfation) of glycosaminoglycans in zebrafish. We show that knockdown of 3-OST-7 results in a very specific phenotype, including loss of cardiac ventricle contraction. Knockdown of other 3-OST family members did not result in the same phenotype, suggesting that distinct 3-OST family members have distinct functions in vertebrates and lending in vivo evidence for the glycocode hypothesis. Mechanistically, we found that cardiac contraction can be rescued by reducing the amount of endogenous BMP4, and can be blocked by increasing BMP signaling, suggesting that the glycocode generated by 3-OST-7 is necessary to constrain BMP signaling in the heart for normal cardiac contraction. Furthermore, we show that tropomyosin4 (tpm4) is downstream of 3-OST-7 function, indicating that Tpm4 is key in this pathway to building the sarcomere, the functional contraction unit of the cardiomyocyte.
PMCID: PMC3849020  PMID: 24311987
7.  Zebrafish Crip2 Plays a Critical Role in Atrioventricular Valve Development by Downregulating the Expression of ECM Genes in the Endocardial Cushion 
Molecules and Cells  2014;37(5):406-411.
The initial step of atrioventricular (AV) valve development involves the deposition of extracellular matrix (ECM) components of the endocardial cushion and the endocardialmesenchymal transition. While the appropriately regulated expression of the major ECM components, Versican and Hyaluronan, that form the endocardial cushion is important for heart valve development, the underlying mechanism that regulates ECM gene expression remains unclear. We found that zebrafish crip2 expression is restricted to a subset of cells in the AV canal (AVC) endocardium at 55 hours post-fertilization (hpf). Knockdown of crip2 induced a heart-looping defect in zebrafish embryos, although the development of cardiac chambers appeared to be normal. In the AVC of Crip2-deficient embryos, the expression of both versican a and hyaluronan synthase 2 (has2) was highly upregulated, but the expression of bone morphogenetic protein 4 (bmp4) and T-box 2b (tbx2b) in the myocardium and of notch1b in the endocardium in the AVC did not change. Taken together, these results indicate that crip2 plays an important role in AV valve development by downregulating the expression of ECM components in the endocardial cushion.
PMCID: PMC4044312  PMID: 24823359
cardiac valve; crip2; has2; versican; zebrafish
8.  Excessive Nitrite Affects Zebrafish Valvulogenesis through Yielding Too Much NO Signaling 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e92728.
Sodium nitrite, a common food additive, exists widely not only in the environment but also in our body. Excessive nitrite causes toxicological effects on human health; however, whether it affects vertebrate heart valve development remains unknown. In vertebrates, developmental defects of cardiac valves usually lead to congenital heart disease. To understand the toxic effects of nitrite on valvulogenesis, we exposed zebrafish embryos with different concentrations of sodium nitrite. Our results showed that sodium nitrite caused developmental defects of zebrafish heart dose dependently. It affected zebrafish heart development starting from 36 hpf (hour post fertilization) when heart initiates looping process. Comprehensive analysis on the embryos at 24 hpf and 48 hpf showed that excessive nitrite did not affect blood circulation, vascular network, myocardium and endocardium development. But development of endocardial cells in atrioventricular canal (AVC) of the embryos at 48 hpf was disrupted by too much nitrite, leading to defective formation of primitive valve leaflets at 76 hpf. Consistently, excessive nitrite diminished expressions of valve progenitor markers including bmp4, has2, vcana and notch1b at 48 hpf. Furthermore, 3′, 5′-cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP), downstream of nitric oxide (NO) signaling, was increased its level significantly in the embryos exposed with excessive nitrite and microinjection of soluble guanylate cyclase inhibitor ODQ (1H-[1], [2], [4]Oxadiazolo[4,3-a] quinoxalin-1-one), an antagonist of NO signaling, into nitrite-exposed embryos could partly rescue the cardiac valve malformation. Taken together, our results show that excessive nitrite affects early valve leaflet formation by producing too much NO signaling.
PMCID: PMC3962429  PMID: 24658539
9.  Endocardial to Myocardial Notch-Wnt-Bmp Axis Regulates Early Heart Valve Development 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e60244.
Endocardial to mesenchymal transformation (EMT) is a fundamental cellular process required for heart valve formation. Notch, Wnt and Bmp pathways are known to regulate this process. To further address how these pathways coordinate in the process, we specifically disrupted Notch1 or Jagged1 in the endocardium of mouse embryonic hearts and showed that Jagged1-Notch1 signaling in the endocardium is essential for EMT and early valvular cushion formation. qPCR and RNA in situ hybridization assays reveal that endocardial Jagged1-Notch1 signaling regulates Wnt4 expression in the atrioventricular canal (AVC) endocardium and Bmp2 in the AVC myocardium. Whole embryo cultures treated with Wnt4 or Wnt inhibitory factor 1 (Wif1) show that Bmp2 expression in the AVC myocardium is dependent on Wnt activity; Wnt4 also reinstates Bmp2 expression in the AVC myocardium of endocardial Notch1 null embryos. Furthermore, while both Wnt4 and Bmp2 rescue the defective EMT resulting from Notch inhibition, Wnt4 requires Bmp for its action. These results demonstrate that Jagged1-Notch1 signaling in endocardial cells induces the expression of Wnt4, which subsequently acts as a paracrine factor to upregulate Bmp2 expression in the adjacent AVC myocardium to signal EMT.
PMCID: PMC3613384  PMID: 23560082
10.  Early Endocardial Morphogenesis Requires Scl/Tal1 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(8):e140.
The primitive heart tube is composed of an outer myocardial and an inner endocardial layer that will give rise to the cardiac valves and septa. Specification and differentiation of these two cell layers are among the earliest events in heart development, but the embryonic origins and genetic regulation of early endocardial development remain largely undefined. We have analyzed early endocardial development in the zebrafish using time-lapse confocal microscopy and show that the endocardium seems to originate from a region in the lateral plate mesoderm that will give rise to hematopoietic cells of the primitive myeloid lineage. Endocardial precursors appear to rapidly migrate to the site of heart tube formation, where they arrive prior to the bilateral myocardial primordia. Analysis of a newly discovered zebrafish Scl/Tal1 mutant showed an additional and previously undescribed role of this transcription factor during the development of the endocardium. In Scl/Tal1 mutant embryos, endocardial precursors are specified, but migration is severely defective and endocardial cells aggregate at the ventricular pole of the heart. We further show that the initial fusion of the bilateral myocardial precursor populations occurs independently of the endocardium and tal1 function. Our results suggest early separation of the two components of the primitive heart tube and imply Scl/Tal1 as an indispensable component of the molecular hierarchy that controls endocardium morphogenesis.
Author Summary
In its earliest functional form, the embryonic heart of all vertebrates is a simple linear tube consisting of two cell types. An outer muscular cell layer called the myocardium surrounds an inner vascular cell layer called the endocardium that connects the heart to the vascular system. The integration of both cell types is an important step during heart development, but the formation of the endocardial component of the heart tube is poorly understood. Here, we analyze the formation of the endocardium in the zebrafish embryo and show using time-lapse imaging that it is a highly dynamic structure. In addition, we have identified a zebrafish mutant with a specific defect during endocardial development. This defect is caused by a mutation in T cell acute leukemia 1, a gene that—when misexpressed—causes many cases of childhood leukemias. Here, we show an additional role for this gene during heart development. In mutant embryos, both endocardial and myocardial precursors are specified, but integration of both cell types does not occur properly due to a defective migration of the endocardial precursors. Given the many interactions that occur between the endocardium and the myocardium, our results will provide a more comprehensive understanding of heart development.
PMCID: PMC1950955  PMID: 17722983
11.  Bmp2 instructs cardiac progenitors to form the heart-valve-inducing field 
Developmental biology  2006;295(2):580-588.
A hallmark of heart-valve development is the swelling and deposition of extracellular matrix in the heart-valve region. Only myocardium overlying this region can signal to underlying endothelium and cause it to lose cell–cell contacts, delaminate, and invade the extracellular space abutting myocardium and endocardium to form endocardial cushions (EC) in a process known as epithelial to mesenchymal transformation (EMT). The heart-valve myocardium expresses bone morphogenetic protein-2 (Bmp2) coincident with development of valve mesenchyme. BMPs belong to the transforming growth factor beta superfamily (TGF-β) and play a wide variety of roles during development. We show that conditional ablation of Bmp2 in cardiac progenitors results in cell fate changes in which the heart-valve region adopts the identity of differentiated chamber myocardium. Moreover, Bmp2-deficient hearts fail to induce production and deposition of matrix at the heart-valve-forming region, resulting in the inability of the endothelium to swell and impairing the development of ECs. Furthermore, in collagen invasion assays, Bmp2 mutant endothelium is incapable of undergoing EMT, and addition of BMP2 protein to mutant heart explants rescues this phenotype. Our results demonstrate that Bmp2 is both necessary and sufficient to specify a field of cardiac progenitor cells as the heart-valve-inducing region amid developing atria and ventricles.
PMCID: PMC2680002  PMID: 16730346
Heart development; Endocardial cushion; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; EMT; Bmp2; Atrioventricular canal; AVC; Cardiac morphogenesis; Cardiac development; Bone morphogenetic protein
12.  Multiple essential roles for primary cilia in heart development 
Cilia  2012;1:23.
The primary cilium is a microtubule-based, plasma membrane-ensheathed protrusion projecting from the basal bodies of almost all cell types in the mammalian body. In the past several years a plethora of papers has indicated a crucial role for primary cilia in the development of a wide variety of organs. We have investigated heart development in cobblestone, a hypomorphic allele of the gene encoding the intraflagellar transport protein Ift88, and uncovered a number of the most common congenital heart defects seen in newborn humans.
We generated serial sections of mutant cobblestone and wild type embryos in the region encompassing the heart and the cardiac outflow tract. The sections were further processed to generate three-dimensional reconstructions of these structures, and immunofluorescence confocal microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, and in situ hybridization were used to examine signal transduction pathways in the relevant areas. Whole mount in situ hybridization was also employed for certain developmental markers.
In addition to an enlarged pericardium and failure of both ventricular and atrial septum formation, the cobblestone mutants displayed manifold defects in outflow tract formation, including persistent truncus arteriosus, an overriding aorta, and abnormal transformation of the aortic arches. To discern the basis of these anomalies we examined both the maintenance of primary cilia as well as endogenous and migratory embryonic cell populations that contribute to the outflow tract and atrioventricular septa. The colonization of the embryonic heart by cardiac neural crest occurred normally in the cobblestone mutant, as did the expression of Sonic hedgehog. However, with the loss of primary cilia in the mutant hearts, there was a loss of both downstream Sonic hedgehog signaling and of Islet 1 expression in the second heart field, a derivative of the pharyngeal mesoderm. In addition, defects were recorded in development of atrial laterality and ventricular myocardiogenesis. Finally, we observed a reduction in expression of Bmp4 in the outflow tract, and complete loss of expression of both Bmp2 and Bmp4 in the atrioventricular endocardial cushions. Loss of BMP2/4 signaling may result in the observed proliferative defect in the endocardial cushions, which give rise to both the atrioventricular septa as well as to the septation of the outflow tract.
Taken together, our results potentially identify a novel link between Sonic hedgehog signaling at the primary cilium and BMP-dependent effects upon cardiogenesis. Our data further point to a potential linkage of atrioventricular septal defects, the most common congenital heart defects, to genes of the transport machinery or basal body of the cilia.
PMCID: PMC3563622  PMID: 23351706
Primary cilia; Heart; Outflow tract; Aorta; Pulmonary trunk; Endocardial cushions; AVSD; Nkx2.5; Pitx2c; Isl1; Hand1; Alpha-actinin; Bmp2; Bmp4; Shh; Cardiac neural crest
13.  Endocardial Brg1 Represses ADAMTS1 to Maintain the Microenvironment for Myocardial Morphogenesis 
Developmental cell  2008;14(2):298-311.
Developing myocardial cells respond to signals from the endocardial layer to form a network of trabeculae that characterize the ventricles of the vertebrate heart. Abnormal myocardial trabeculation results in specific cardiomyopathies in humans and yet trabecular development is poorly understood. We show that trabeculation requires Brg1, a chromatin remodeling protein, to repress ADAMTS1 expression in the endocardium that overlies the developing trabeculae. Repression of ADAMTS1, a secreted matrix metalloproteinase, allows the establishment of an extracellular environment in the cardiac jelly that supports trabecular growth. Later during embryogenesis, ADAMTS1 expression initiates in the endocardium to degrade the cardiac jelly and prevent excessive trabeculation. Thus, the composition of cardiac jelly essential for myocardial morphogenesis is dynamically controlled by ADAMTS1 and its chromatin-based transcriptional regulation. Modification of the intervening microenvironment provides a mechanism by which chromatin regulation within one tissue layer coordinates the morphogenesis of an adjacent layer.
PMCID: PMC2274005  PMID: 18267097
Brg1; BAF complex; chromatin remodeling; primitive erythropoiesis; yolk sac vasculogenesis; endocardium; heart development; trabeculation; cardiac jelly; ADAMTS1; microenvironments
14.  Tbx20 Regulation of Endocardial Cushion Cell Proliferation and Extracellular Matrix Gene Expression 
Developmental biology  2006;302(2):376-388.
While recent work has implicated Tbx20 in myocardial maturation and proliferation, the role of Tbx20 in heart valve development remains relatively unknown. Tbx20 expression was manipulated in primary avian endocardial cells in order to elucidate its function in developing endocardial cushions. Tbx20 gain of function was achieved with a Tbx20-adenovirus, and endogenous Tbx20 expression was inhibited with Tbx20-specific siRNA in cultured endocardial cushion cells. With Tbx20 gain of function, the expression of chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPG), including aggrecan and versican, was decreased, while the expression of the matrix metalloproteinases (MMP) mmp9 and mmp13 was increased. Consistent results were observed with Tbx20 loss of function where the expression of CSPG genes increased and MMP genes decreased. In addition, cushion mesenchyme proliferation increased with infection of a Tbx20-adenovirus and decreased with transfection of Tbx20-specfic siRNA. Furthermore, BMP2 treatment resulted in increased Tbx20 expression in endocardial cushion cells, and loss of Tbx20 led to increased Tbx2 and decreased N-myc gene expression. Taken together, these data support a role for Tbx20 in repressing extracellular matrix remodeling and promoting cell proliferation in mesenchymal valve precursor populations in endocardial cushions during embryonic development.
PMCID: PMC1847324  PMID: 17064679
Tbx20; endocardial cushion development; aggrecan; versican; mmp9; mmp13; cell proliferation; siRNA; chicken
15.  The secreted integrin ligand nephronectin is necessary for forelimb formation in Xenopus tropicalis 
Developmental Biology  2011;349(2):204-212.
While limb regeneration has been extensively studied in amphibians, little is known about the initial events in limb formation in metamorphosing anurans. The small secreted integrin ligand nephronectin (npnt) is necessary for development of the metanephros in mouse. Although expressed in many tissues, its role in other developmental processes is not well-studied. Here we show that a transgene insertion that disrupts this gene ablates forelimb formation in Xenopus tropicalis. Our results suggest a novel role for integrin signalling in limb development, and represent the first insertional phenotype to be cloned in amphibians.
Research Highlights
►The Xenopus tropicalis mutation xdm lacks all forelimb structures. ►Xdm results from a transgene integration in the nephronectin gene. ►Xdm tadpoles do not express tbx5 in the prospective forelimb field. ►Xdm is the first insertional mutation cloned in amphibians.
PMCID: PMC3021715  PMID: 20977901
Xenopus tropicalis; Genetics; Limb; Mutant; Nephronectin; Integrin
16.  The FGF-BMP signaling axis regulates outflow tract valve primordium formation by promoting cushion neural crest cell differentiation 
Circulation research  2010;107(10):1209-1219.
Heart valves develop from precursor structures called cardiac cushions, an endothelial-lined cardiac jelly that resides in the inner side of the heart tube. The cushions are then invaded by cells from different sources, undergo a series of complicated and poorly understood remodeling processes, and give rise to valves. Disruption of the fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signaling axis impairs morphogenesis of the outflow tract (OFT). Yet, whether FGF signaling regulates OFT valve formation is unknown.
To study how OFT valve formation is regulated and how aberrant cell signaling causes valve defects.
Methods and results
By employing mouse genetic manipulation, cell lineage tracing, ex vivo heart culture, and molecular biology approaches, we demonstrated that FGF signaling in the OFT myocardium upregulated Bmp4 expression, which then enhanced smooth muscle differentiation of neural crest cells (NCCs) in the cushion. FGF signaling also promoted OFT myocardial cell invasion to the cushion. Disrupting FGF signaling interrupted cushion remodeling with reduced NCCs differentiation into smooth muscle and less cardiomyocyte invasion, and resulted in malformed OFT valves.
The results demonstrate a novel mechanism by which the FGF-BMP signaling axis regulates formation of OFT valve primordia by controlling smooth muscle differentiation of cushion NCCs.
PMCID: PMC3052773  PMID: 20847311
FGF; BMP; heart development; NCC differentiation; cardiac valve defect
17.  Myocardial Tbx20 regulates early atrioventricular canal formation and endocardial epithelial-mesenchymal transition via Bmp2 
Developmental biology  2011;360(2):381-390.
During early embryogenesis, the formation of the cardiac atrioventricular canal (AVC) facilitates the transition of the heart from a linear tube into a chambered organ. However, the genetic pathways underlying this developmental process are poorly understood. The T-box transcription factor Tbx20 is expressed predominantly in the AVC of early heart tube. It was shown that Tbx20 activates Nmyc1 and suppresses Tbx2 expression to promote proliferation and specification of the atrial and ventricular chambers, yet it is not known if Tbx20 is involved in early AVC development. Here, we report that mice lacking Tbx20 in the AVC myocardium fail to form the AVC constriction, and the endocardial epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is severely perturbed. Tbx20 maintains expression of a variety of genes, including Bmp2, Tbx3 and Hand1 in the AVC myocardium. Intriguingly, we found Bmp2 downstream genes involved in the EMT initiation are also downregulated. In addition, re-expression of Bmp2 in the AVC myocardium substantially rescues the EMT defects resulting from the lack of Tbx20, suggesting Bmp2 is one of the key downstream targets of Tbx20 in AVC development. Our data support a complex signaling network with Tbx20 suppressing Tbx2 in the AVC myocardium but also indirectly promoting Tbx2 expression through Bmp2. The spatiotemporal expression of Tbx2 in the AVC appears to be balanced between these two opposing signals. Overall, our study provides genetic evidence that Tbx20 has essential roles in regulating AVC development that coordinate early cardiac chamber formation.
PMCID: PMC3217163  PMID: 21983003
Heart development; atrioventricular canal; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; mouse; Tbx20
18.  BMP type II receptor regulates positioning of outflow tract and remodeling of atrioventricular cushion during cardiogenesis 
Developmental biology  2009;331(2):167-175.
Signaling of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) via type I and type II receptors is involved in multiple processes contributing to cardiogenesis. To investigate the role of the BMP type II receptor (BMPRII) in heart development, the BMPRII gene was deleted throughout the embryo during gastrulation using a Mox2-Cre transgene. BMPRIIflox/−;Mox2-Cre mice exhibited cardiac defects including double-outlet right ventricle, ventricular septal defect (VSD), atrioventricular (AV) cushion defects, and thickened valve leaflets. To characterize the tissue-specific functions of BMPRII in cardiogenesis, a series of Cre transgenes (αMHC-, Tie2-, Wnt1-, and SM22α-Cre) was employed. Interestingly, myocardial development was normal when the BMPRII gene was deleted in myocardial cells using Mox2-Cre, αMHC-Cre, or SM22α-Cre transgenes, suggesting that signaling by other BMP type II receptors may compensate for the absence of BMPRII in the myocardial cells. AV cushion defects including atrial septal defect, membranous VSD, and thickened valve leaflets were found in BMPRIIflox/−;Tie2-Cre mice. Abnormal positioning of the aorta was observed in BMPRIIflox/−;Wnt1-Cre and BMPRIIflox/−;SM22α-Cre mice. Taken together, these results demonstrate that endocardial BMPRII expression is required for septal formation and valvulogenesis. Moreover, mesenchymal BMPRII expression in the outflow tract cushion is required for proper positioning of the aorta.
PMCID: PMC2745439  PMID: 19409885
cardiogenesis; bone morphogenetic protein; Cre-loxP; endocardial cushion; valvulogenesis; cardiac outflow tract
19.  Krüppel-Like Factor 2 Is Required for Normal Mouse Cardiac Development 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e54891.
Krüppel-like factor 2 (KLF2) is expressed in endothelial cells in the developing heart, particularly in areas of high shear stress, such as the atrioventricular (AV) canal. KLF2 ablation leads to myocardial thinning, high output cardiac failure and death by mouse embryonic day 14.5 (E14.5) in a mixed genetic background. This work identifies an earlier and more fundamental role for KLF2 in mouse cardiac development in FVB/N mice. FVB/N KLF2−/− embryos die earlier, by E11.5. E9.5 FVB/N KLF2−/− hearts have multiple, disorganized cell layers lining the AV cushions, the primordia of the AV valves, rather than the normal single layer. By E10.5, traditional and endothelial-specific FVB/N KLF2−/− AV cushions are hypocellular, suggesting that the cells accumulating at the AV canal have a defect in endothelial to mesenchymal transformation (EMT). E10.5 FVB/N KLF2−/− hearts have reduced glycosaminoglycans in the cardiac jelly, correlating with the reduced EMT. However, the number of mesenchymal cells migrating from FVB/N KLF2−/− AV explants into a collagen matrix is reduced considerably compared to wild-type, suggesting that the EMT defect is not due solely to abnormal cardiac jelly. Echocardiography of E10.5 FVB/N KLF2−/− embryos indicates that they have abnormal heart function compared to wild-type. E10.5 C57BL/6 KLF2−/− hearts have largely normal AV cushions. However, E10.5 FVB/N and C57BL/6 KLF2−/− embryos have a delay in the formation of the atrial septum that is not observed in a defined mixed background. KLF2 ablation results in reduced Sox9, UDP-glucose dehydrogenase (Ugdh), Gata4 and Tbx5 mRNA in FVB/N AV canals. KLF2 binds to the Gata4, Tbx5 and Ugdh promoters in chromatin immunoprecipitation assays, indicating that KLF2 could directly regulate these genes. In conclusion, KLF2−/− heart phenotypes are genetic background-dependent. KLF2 plays a role in EMT through its regulation of important cardiovascular genes.
PMCID: PMC3573061  PMID: 23457456
20.  Regulation of cardiac cushion development by hyaluronan 
Hyaluronan is an extracellular matrix component implicated in expansion of the extracellular space, organization of supramolecular architecture, cell motility, proliferation, tumour metastases and wound healing. Hyaluronan is highly expressed in the developing heart but it is only a minor component of the mature heart. The loss of hyaluronan synthase-2 (Has2) results in embryonic lethality with a phenotype remarkably similar to that of the versican-deficient heart defect mouse. Has2-deficient embryos lack hyaluronan-containing cardiac jelly, and at embryonic day 9.5 show arrested development, with an apparent absence of the right ventricle and underdevelopment of the conustruncus segment, and pericardial effusion consistent with heart failure. Cardiac cushions are totally absent, and endocardial cell migration over collagen gels is not detectable in Has2-deficient atrioventricular (AV) canal explants. Endothelial to mesenchymal transformation is also defective in AV explants from Has2-null embryos. The normal phenotype is restored in AV canal explants from Has2-deficient embryos by co-culture with wild type AV canal explants, with conditioned media from wild type AV explants or with exogenous hyaluronan. These results provide evidence for a direct role for hyaluronan during endocardial cushion and AV canal morphogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2858958  PMID: 20428437
Atrioventricular canal; Hyaluronan; Hyaluronan synthase-2; Morphogenesis
21.  Alk3/Bmpr1a Receptor Is Required for Development of the Atrioventricular Canal Into Valves and Annulus Fibrosus 
Circulation research  2005;97(3):219-226.
Endocardial cushions are precursors of mature atrioventricular (AV) valves. Their formation is induced by signaling molecules originating from the AV myocardium, including bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs). Here, we hypothesized that BMP signaling plays an important role in the AV myocardium during the maturation of AV valves from the cushions. To test our hypothesis, we used a unique Cre/lox system to target the deletion of a floxed Alk3 allele, the type IA receptor for BMPs, to cardiac myocytes of the AV canal (AVC). Lineage analysis indicated that cardiac myocytes of the AVC contributed to the tricuspid mural and posterior leaflets, the mitral septal leaflet, and the atrial border of the annulus fibrosus. When Alk3 was deleted in these cells, defects were seen in the same leaflets, ie, the tricuspid mural leaflet and mitral septal leaflet were longer, the tricuspid posterior leaflet was displaced and adherent to the ventricular wall, and the annulus fibrosus was disrupted resulting in ventricular preexcitation. The defects seen in mice with AVC-targeted deletion of Alk3 provide strong support for a role of Alk3 in human congenital heart diseases, such as Ebstein’s anomaly. In conclusion, our mouse model demonstrated critical roles for Alk3 signaling in the AV myocardium during the development of AV valves and the annulus fibrosus.
PMCID: PMC2950023  PMID: 16037571
bone morphogenetic protein signaling; heart development; atrioventricular canal; Cre–lox system
22.  tal1 regulates the formation of intercellular junctions and the maintenance of identity in the endocardium 
Developmental biology  2013;383(2):214-226.
The endocardium forms the inner lining of the heart tube, where it enables blood flow and also interacts with the myocardium during the formation of valves and trabeculae. Although a number of studies have identified regulators of the morphogenesis of the myocardium, relatively little is known about the molecules that control endocardial morphogenesis. Prior work has implicated the bHLH transcription factor Tal1 in endocardial tube formation: in zebrafish embryos lacking Tal1, endocardial cells form a disorganized mass within the ventricle and do not populate the atrium. Through blastomere transplantation, we find that tal1 plays a cell-autonomous role in regulating endocardial extension, suggesting that Tal1 activity influences the behavior of individual endocardial cells. The defects in endocardial behavior in tal1-deficient embryos originate during the earliest steps of endocardial morphogenesis: tal1-deficient endocardial cells fail to generate a cohesive monolayer at the midline and instead pack tightly together into a multi-layered aggregate. Moreover, the tight junction protein ZO-1 is mislocalized in the tal1-deficient endocardium, indicating a defect in intercellular junction formation. In addition, we find that the tal1-deficient endocardium fails to maintain its identity; over time, a progressively increasing number of tal1-deficient endocardial cells initiate myocardial gene expression. However, the onset of defects in intercellular junction formation precedes the onset of ectopic myocardial gene expression in the tal1-deficient endocardium. We therefore propose a model in which Tal1 has distinct roles in regulating the formation of endocardial intercellular junctions and maintaining endocardial identity.
PMCID: PMC3932745  PMID: 24075907
zebrafish; cardiac morphogenesis; endocardium; heart tube assembly; scl
Cellular signalling  2011;24(1):247-256.
An early event in heart valve formation is the epithelial-mesenchymal transformation (EMT) of a subpopulation of endothelial cells in specific regions of the heart tube, the endocardial cushions. The Type III TGFβ receptor (TGFβR3) is required for TGFβ2- or BMP-2-stimulated EMT in atrioventricular endocardial cushion (AVC) explants in vitro but the mediators downstream of TGFβR3 are not well described. Using AVC and ventricular explants as an in vitro assay, we found an absolute requirement for specific TGFβR3 cytoplasmic residues, GAIP-interacting protein, C terminus (GIPC), and specific Activin Receptor-Like Kinases (ALK)s for TGFβR3-mediated EMT when stimulated by TGFβ2 or BMP-2. The introduction of TGFβR3 into nontransforming ventricular endocardial cells, followed by the addition of either TGFβ2 or BMP-2, results in EMT. TGFβR3 lacking the entire cytoplasmic domain, or only the 3 C-terminal amino acids that are required to bind GIPC, fails to support EMT in response to TGFβ2 or BMP-2. Overexpression of GIPC in AVC endocardial cells enhanced EMT while siRNA-mediated silencing of GIPC in ventricular cells overexpressing TGFβR3 significantly inhibited EMT. Targeting of specific ALK’s by siRNA revealed that TGFβR3-mediated EMT requires ALK2 and ALK3, in addition to ALK5, but not ALK4 or ALK6. Taken together, these data identify GIPC, ALK2, ALK3, and ALK5 as signaling components required for TGFβR3-mediated endothelial cell EMT.
PMCID: PMC3208316  PMID: 21945156
24.  Nfatc1 Directs the Endocardial Progenitor Cells to Make Heart Valve Primordium 
Trends in cardiovascular medicine  2013;23(8):294-300.
Heart valves arise from the cardiac endocardial cushions located at the atrioventricular canal (AVC) and cardiac outflow tract (OFT) during development. A subpopulation of cushion endocardial cells undergoes endocardial to mesenchymal transformation (EMT) and generates the cushion mesenchyme, which is then remodeled into the interstitial tissue of the mature valves. The cushion endocardial cells that do not undertake EMT proliferate to elongate valve leaflets. During EMT and the post-EMT valve remodeling, endocardial cells at the cushions highly express nuclear factor in activated T-cell, cytoplasmic 1 (Nfatc1), a transcription factor required for valve formation in mice. In this review, we present the current knowledge of Nfatc1 roles in the ontogeny of heart valves with a focus on the fate decision of the endocardial cells in the processes of EMT and valve remodeling.
PMCID: PMC3766465  PMID: 23669445
Vascular endothelial growth factor-receptors (VEGF-Rs) are pivotal regulators of vascular development, but a specific role for these receptors in the formation of heart valves has not been identified. We took advantage of small molecule inhibitors of VEGF-R signaling and showed that blocking VEGF-R signaling with receptor selective tyrosine kinase inhibitors, PTK 787 and AAC 787, from 17–21 hours post fertilization (hpf) in zebrafish embryos resulted in a functional and structural defect in cardiac valve development. Regurgitation of blood between the two chambers of the heart, as well as a loss of cell-restricted expression of the valve differentiation markers notch 1b and bone morphogenetic protein-4 (bmp-4), was readily apparent in treated embryos. In addition, microangiography revealed a loss of a definitve atrioventricular constriction in treated embryos. Taken together, these data demonstrate a novel function for VEGF-Rs in the endocardial endothelium of the developing cardiac valve.
PMCID: PMC2811314  PMID: 16170785
VEGF receptors; cardiac valves; endothelium; NFAT; zebrafish

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