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1.  Gentamicin Reduces Calcific Nodule Formation by Aortic Valve Interstitial Cells In Vitro 
Gentamicin is a widely employed antibiotic, but may reduce calcium uptake by eukaryotic cells. This study was conducted to determine whether gentamicin reduces calcification by porcine aortic valvular interstitial cells (pAVICs) grown in 2D culture, which is a common model for calcific aortic valve disease (CAVD).
Methods and Results
The presence of gentamicin (up to 0.2 mM) in the medium of pAVICs cultured for 8 days significantly lowered calcification and alkaline phosphatase content in a dose-dependent manner compared to pAVICs cultured without gentamicin. Gentamicin also significantly increased cell proliferation and apoptosis at concentrations of 0.1–0.2 mM. Next, gentamicin was applied to previously calcified pAVIC cultures (grown for 8 days) to determine whether it could stop or reverse the calcification process. Daily application of gentamicin for 8 additional days significantly reduced calcification to below the pre-calcification levels.
These results confirm that gentamicin should be used cautiously with in vitro studies of calcification, and suggest that gentamicin may have the ability to reverse calcification by pAVICs. Given the nephrotoxicity and ototoxicity of this antibiotic, its clinical potential for the treatment of calcification in heart valves is limited. However, further investigation of the pathways through which gentamicin alters calcium uptake by valvular cells may provide insight into novel therapies for CAVD.
PMCID: PMC4235961  PMID: 25414733
gentamicin; calcification; mitochondrial calcium uptake; cell culture
2.  Rapid 3D printing of anatomically accurate and mechanically heterogeneous aortic valve hydrogel scaffolds 
Biofabrication  2012;4(3):035005.
The aortic valve exhibits complex three-dimensional (3D) anatomy and heterogeneity essential for long-term efficient biomechanical function. These are, however, challenging to mimic in de novo engineered living tissue valve strategies. We present a novel simultaneous 3D-printing/photocrosslinking technique for rapidly engineering complex, heterogeneous aortic valve scaffolds. Native anatomic and axisymmetric aortic valve geometries (root wall and tri-leaflets) with 12 to 22 mm inner diameters (ID) were 3D printed with poly-ethylene glycol-diacrylate (PEG-DA) hydrogels (700 or 8000 MW) supplemented with alginate. 3D printing geometric accuracy was quantified and compared using Micro-CT. Porcine aortic valve interstitial cells (PAVIC) seeded scaffolds were cultured for up to 21 days. Results showed that blended PEG-DA scaffolds could achieve over 10-fold range in elastic modulus (5.3±0.9 to 74.6±1.5 kPa). 3D printing times for valve conduits with mechanically contrasting hydrogels were optimized to 14 to 45 minutes, increasing linearly with conduit diameter. Larger printed valves had greater shape fidelity (93.3±2.6, 85.1±2.0, and 73.3±5.2% for 22, 17, and 12 mm ID porcine valves; 89.1±4.0, 84.1±5.6, and 66.6±5.2% for simplified valves). PAVIC seeded scaffolds maintained near 100% viability over 21 days. These results demonstrate that 3D hydrogel printing with controlled photocrosslinking can rapidly fabricate anatomical heterogeneous valve conduits that support cell engraftment.
PMCID: PMC3676672  PMID: 22914604
3.  Calcific nodule morphogenesis by heart valve interstitial cells is strain dependent 
Calcific aortic valve disease (CAVD) results in impaired function through the inability of valves to fully open and close, but the causes of this pathology are unknown. Stiffening of the aorta is associated with CAVD and results in exposing the aortic valves to greater mechanical strain. Transforming growth factor β1 (TGF-β1) is enriched in diseased valves and has been shown to combine with strain to synergistically alter aortic valve interstitial cell (AVIC) phenotypes. Therefore, we investigated the role of strain and TGF-β1 on the calcification of AVICs. Following TGF-β1 pretreatment, strain induced intact monolayers to aggregate and calcify. Using a wound assay, we confirmed that TGF-β1 increases tension in the monolayer in parallel with α-smooth muscle actin (αSMA) expression. Continual exposure to strain accelerates aggregates to calcify into mature nodules that contain a necrotic core surrounded by an apoptotic ring. This phenotype appears to be mediated by strain inhibition of AVIC migration after the initial formation of aggregates. To better interpret the extent to which externally applied strain physically impacts this process, we modified the classical Lamé solution, derived using principles from linear elasticity, to reveal strain magnification as a novel feature occurring in a mechanical environment that supports nodule formation. These results indicate that strain can impact multiple points of nodule formation: by modifying tension in the monolayer, remodeling cell contacts, migration, apoptosis, and mineralization. Therefore, strain induced nodule formation provides new directions for developing strategies to address CAVD.
PMCID: PMC3375394  PMID: 22307683
Calcific Aortic Valve Disease; Mechanobiology; TGF-β1; αSMA; Mechanical Strain; Apoptosis; Dystrophic Calcification; Aortic Valve Interstitial Cell; Myofibroblast
4.  Regulation of Valvular Interstitial Cell Mineralization by Components of the Extracellular Matrix 
The composition of the extracellular matrix (ECM) is believed to play a role in heart valve disease, and is highly relevant to the design of heart valve tissue engineering scaffolds, yet the interaction of valvular interstitial cells (VICs) with the ECM environment has not been well characterized. Thus, the transformation of VICs to an osteoblast-like phenotype was quantified in VICs cultured on different types of ECM coatings. The results show that the number and size of calcific nodules formed in VIC cultures, as well as the expression of the mineralization markers alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and CBFa1, were highly dependent upon the composition of the culture surface. In fact, VICs cultured on certain ECM components, namely collagen and fibronectin, were resistant to calcification, even upon treatment with several mineralization-inducing growth factors. Meanwhile, cultures of VICs on fibrin, laminin, and heparin coatings not only had a high number of calcified nodules, but also elevated levels of ALP and CBFa1. Nodule composition analysis revealed the presence of multiple types of mineralization, including hydroxyapatite. Although apoptotic and necrotic cells were more concentrated in nodules than in other parts of the VIC cultures, the nodules contained a strong majority population of viable cells. By demonstrating this ECM-dependence of VIC calcification, we aim to identify appropriate biomaterial environments for heart valve tissue engineering as well as elucidate mechanisms of valvular disease.
PMCID: PMC4230299  PMID: 18671262
valvular interstitial cells; calcification; biomaterials; extracellular matrix
5.  Cadherin-11 regulates cell-cell tension necessary for calcific nodule formation by valvular myofibroblasts 
Dystrophic calcific nodule formation in vitro involves differentiation of aortic valve interstitial cells (AVICs) into a myofibroblast phenotype. Interestingly, inhibition of the kinase MEK1/2 prevents calcific nodule formation despite leading to myofibroblast activation of AVICs, indicating the presence of an additional mechanotransductive component required for calcific nodule morphogenesis. In this study, we assess the role of TGF-β1-induced cadherin-11 expression in calcific nodule formation.
Methods and Results
As shown previously, porcine AVICs treated with TGF-β1 prior to cyclic strain exhibit increased myofibroblast activation and significant calcific nodule formation. In addition to an increase in contractile myofibroblast markers, TGF-β1 treated AVICs exhibit significantly increased expression of cadherin-11. This expression is inhibited by the addition of U0126, a specific MEK1/2 inhibitor. The role of increased cadherin-11 is revealed through a wound assay, which demonstrates increased intercellular tension in TGF-β1 treated AVICs possessing cadherin-11. Furthermore, when siRNA is used to knockdown cadherin-11, calcific nodule formation is abrogated, indicating that robust cell-cell connections are necessary in generating tension for calcific nodule morphogenesis. Finally, we demonstrate enrichment of cadherin-11 in human calcified leaflets.
These results indicate the necessity of cadherin-11 for dystrophic calcific nodule formation, which proceeds through an Erk1/2 dependent pathway.
PMCID: PMC3536033  PMID: 23162011
6.  Differential Proteoglycan and Hyaluronan Distribution in Calcified Aortic Valves 
While the prevalence of calcified aortic valve disease continues to rise and no pharmacological treatments exist, little is known regarding the pathogenesis of the disease. Proteoglycans and the glycosaminoglycan hyaluronan are involved in calcification in arteriosclerosis and their characterization in calcified aortic valves may lend insight into the pathogenesis of the disease.
14 calcified aortic valves removed during valve replacement surgery were immunohistochemically stained for the proteoglycans (PGs) decorin, biglycan, and versican, as well as the glycosaminoglycan hyaluronan. Staining intensity was evaluated in the following regions of interest: center of calcified nodule, edge of nodule, tissue directly surrounding nodule; center and tissue surrounding small “prenodules”; and fibrosa layer of normal regions of the leaflet distanced from the nodule.
Decorin, biglycan, and versican, as well as hyaluronan, were abundantly present immediately surrounding the calcified nodules, but minimally within the nodule itself. Expression of decorin and biglycan in and surrounding prenodules was greater than in the edge and center regions of mature nodules. The levels of expression of the PGs and hyaluronan were highly correlated with one another in the different regions of the valve.
The three PGs and hyaluronan demonstrated distinctive localization relative to nodules within calcified aortic valves, where they likely mediate lipid retention, cell proliferation, and extracellular matrix remodeling, and motivate further study. Comparisons between expression of these components in mature nodules and prenodules suggest distinct roles for these components in nodule progression, especially in the tissues surrounding the nodules.
PMCID: PMC3075347  PMID: 21185747
proteoglycans; hyaluronan; calcification; aortic valve; immunohistochemistry
Biomaterials  2006;28(4):690-699.
Heart valve replacements fabricated from glutaraldehyde (Glut)-crosslinked heterograft materials, porcine aortic valves or bovine pericardium, have been widely used in cardiac surgery to treat heart valve disease. However, these bioprosthetic heart valves often fail in long-term clinical implants due to pathologic calcification of the bioprosthetic leaflets, and for stentless porcine aortic valve bioprostheses, bioprosthetic aortic wall calcification also typically occurs. Previous use of the epoxide-based crosslinker, Triglycidyl amine (TGA), on cardiac bioprosthetic valve materials demonstrated superior biocompatibility, mechanics, and calcification resistance for porcine aortic valve cusps (but not porcine aortic wall) and bovine pericardium, versus Glut-prepared controls. However, TGA preparation did not completely prevent long-term calcification of cusps or pericardium. Herein we report further mechanistic investigations of an added therapeutic component to this system, 2-Mercaptoethylidene-1,1-bisphosphonic acid (MABP), a custom synthesized thiol bisphosphonate, which has previously been shown in a preliminary report to prevent bioprosthetic heterograft biomaterial calcification when used in combination with initial TGA crosslinking for 7 days. In the present studies we have further investigated the effectiveness of MABP in experiments that examined: 1) The use of MABP after optimal TGA crosslinking, in order to avoid any competitive interference of MABP-reactions with TGA during crosslinking; 2) Furthermore, recognizing the importance of alkaline phosphatase in the formation of dystrophic calcific nodules, we have investigated the hypothesis that the mechanism by which MABP primarily functions is through the reduction of alkaline phosphatase activity. Results from cell-free model systems, cell culture studies, and rat subcutaneous implants, show that materials functionalized with MABP after TGA crosslinking have reduced alkaline phosphatase activity, and in vivo have no significant calcification in long term implant studies. It is concluded that bioprosthetic heart valves prepared in this fashion are compelling alternatives for Glut-prepared bioprostheses.
PMCID: PMC1829417  PMID: 17027944
8.  Ex Vivo Evidence for the Contribution of Hemodynamic Shear Stress Abnormalities to the Early Pathogenesis of Calcific Bicuspid Aortic Valve Disease 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e48843.
The bicuspid aortic valve (BAV) is the most common congenital cardiac anomaly and is frequently associated with calcific aortic valve disease (CAVD). The most prevalent type-I morphology, which results from left-/right-coronary cusp fusion, generates different hemodynamics than a tricuspid aortic valve (TAV). While valvular calcification has been linked to genetic and atherogenic predispositions, hemodynamic abnormalities are increasingly pointed as potential pathogenic contributors. In particular, the wall shear stress (WSS) produced by blood flow on the leaflets regulates homeostasis in the TAV. In contrast, WSS alterations cause valve dysfunction and disease. While such observations support the existence of synergies between valvular hemodynamics and biology, the role played by BAV WSS in valvular calcification remains unknown. The objective of this study was to isolate the acute effects of native BAV WSS abnormalities on CAVD pathogenesis. Porcine aortic valve leaflets were subjected ex vivo to the native WSS experienced by TAV and type-I BAV leaflets for 48 hours. Immunostaining, immunoblotting and zymography were performed to characterize endothelial activation, pro-inflammatory paracrine signaling, extracellular matrix remodeling and markers involved in valvular interstitial cell activation and osteogenesis. While TAV and non-coronary BAV leaflet WSS essentially maintained valvular homeostasis, fused BAV leaflet WSS promoted fibrosa endothelial activation, paracrine signaling (2.4-fold and 3.7-fold increase in BMP-4 and TGF-β1, respectively, relative to fresh controls), catabolic enzyme secretion (6.3-fold, 16.8-fold, 11.7-fold, 16.7-fold and 5.5-fold increase in MMP-2, MMP-9, cathepsin L, cathepsin S and TIMP-2, respectively) and activity (1.7-fold and 2.4-fold increase in MMP-2 and MMP-9 activity, respectively), and bone matrix synthesis (5-fold increase in osteocalcin). In contrast, BAV WSS did not significantly affect α-SMA and Runx2 expressions and TIMP/MMP ratio. This study demonstrates the key role played by BAV hemodynamic abnormalities in CAVD pathogenesis and suggests the dependence of BAV vulnerability to calcification on the local degree of WSS abnormality.
PMCID: PMC3485349  PMID: 23119099
9.  Periostin Expression is Altered in Aortic Valves in Smad6 Mutant Mice 
Smad6 is known to predominantly inhibit BMP signaling by negatively regulating the BMP signaling process. Therefore, Smad6 mutation potentially provides an important genetic model for investigating the role of BMP signaling in vivo. Periostin is a 90-kDA secreted extracellular matrix (ECM) protein and implicated in cardiac valve progenitor cell differentiation, maturation and adult aortic valve calcification in mice. We have previously reported periostin expression patterns during AV valve development in mice. Because periostin can play critical roles in aortic valve interstitial cell differentiation and can be correlated with adult valve disease pathogenesis, in the present study we specifically focused on periostin expression during outflow tract (OT) development and its expression within the adult mouse valves. We previously reported that periostin expression in valve progenitor cells was altered by exogenously adding BMP-2 in culture. In this study, we investigated whether expression of periostin and other valvulogenic ECM proteins was altered in Smad6-mutant newborn mice in vivo. Periostin protein was localized within OT during embryonic development in mice. At embryonic day (ED) 13.5, robust periostin expression was detected within the developing pulmonary trunk and developing pulmonary and aortic valves. Periostin expression remained intense in pulmonary and aortic valves up to the adult stage. Our immunohistochemical and immunointensity analyses revealed that periostin expression was significantly reduced in the aortic valves in Smad6−/− neonatal hearts. Versican expression was also significantly reduced in Smad6−/− aortic valves, whereas, hyaluronan deposition was not significantly altered in the Smad6−/− neonatal valves. Expression of periostin and versican was less prominently affected in AV valves compared to the aortic valves, suggesting that a cell lineage/origin-dependent response to regulatory molecules may play a critical role in valve interstitial cell development and ECM protein expression.
PMCID: PMC4224111  PMID: 25383261
Periostin; Versican; Smad6; Hyaluronan; Heart valve; Outflow tract; Endocardial cushion
10.  Vitamin K-dependent Calcium Binding Proteins in Aortic Valve Calcification 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  1980;65(2):563-566.
The pathogenesis of valvar calcification, which complicates the course of cardiac valve disease and also affects tissue valve prostheses, is incompletely understood. The present work explores the possible role of the vitamin K-dependent, calcium-binding amino acid, γ-carboxyglutamic acid (Gla) in valve mineralization. Gla is normally found in the vitamin K-dependent clotting factor proteins, and is also present in unique calcium binding proteins in bone, kidney, and lung. Unique Gla-containing proteins have also been isolated from pathologic calcifications including calcium containing renal stones and calcified atherosclerotic plaque. Calcified valves including specimens with calcific aortic stenosis, calcified porcine xenograft valves, and a calcified aortic homograft valve were analyzed for Gla content, complete amino acid analysis, and tissue calcium and phosphorus levels. Normal porcine valves contained protein-bound Gla (2.0-10.6 Gla/104 amino acids): no Gla was present in normal valve leaflets. Furthermore, Gla levels paralleled tissue calcium content in the calcified valves. In addition, complete amino acid analysis indicated a decline in valvar collagen content plus increased acidic proteins in conjunction with valvar calcification and the presence of Gla-containing proteins. These results suggest that calcific valvar disease may result in part from vitamin K-dependent processes.
PMCID: PMC371395  PMID: 7356695
11.  Differential expression of cartilage and bone-related proteins in pediatric and adult diseased aortic valves 
Approximately 5 million people are affected with aortic valve disease (AoVD) in the United States. The most common treatment is aortic valve (AoV) replacement surgery, however, replacement valves are susceptible to failure, necessitating additional surgeries. The molecular mechanisms underlying disease progression and late AoV calcification are not well understood. Recent studies suggest that genes involved in bone and cartilage development play an active role in osteogenic-like calcification in human calcific AoVD (CAVD). In an effort to define the molecular pathways involved in AoVD progression and calcification, expression of markers of valve mesenchymal progenitors, chondrogenic precursors, and osteogenic differentiation was compared in pediatric non-calcified and adult calcified AoV specimens. Valvular interstitial cell (VIC) activation, extracellular matrix (ECM) disorganization, and markers of valve mesenchymal and skeletal chondrogenic progenitor cells were observed in both pediatric and adult AoVD. However, activated BMP signaling, increased expression of cartilage and bone-type collagens, and increased expression of the osteogenic marker Runx2 are observed in adult diseased AoVs and are not observed in the majority of pediatric diseased valves, representing a marked distinction in the molecular profile between pediatric and adult diseased AoVs. The combined evidence suggests that an actively regulated osteochondrogenic disease process underlies the pathological changes affecting AoVD progression, ultimately resulting in stenotic AoVD. Both pediatric and adult diseased AoVs express protein markers of valve mesenchymal and chondrogenic progenitor cells while adult diseased AoVs also express proteins involved in osteogenic calcification. These findings provide specific molecular indicators of AoVD progression, which may lead to identification of early disease markers and the development of potential therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC3035730  PMID: 21163264
Aortic valve disease; Valvular interstitial cells; Calcification; Extracellular matrix
12.  Human Degenerative Valve Disease Is Associated With Up-Regulation of Low-Density Lipoprotein Receptor-Related Protein 5 Receptor-Mediated Bone Formation 
The goal of this research was to define the cellular mechanisms involved in myxomatous mitral valve disease and calcific aortic valve disease and to redefine the term degenerative valve disease in terms of an active cellular biology.
“Degenerative” valvular heart disease is the primary cause of regurgitant and stenotic valvular lesion in the U.S. However, the signaling pathways are not known. We hypothesize that valve degeneration occurs due to an osteoblastic differentiation process mediated by the low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 5 (Lrp5) signaling pathway to cause valve thickening.
We examined human diseased valves: myxomatous mitral valves (n = 23), calcified tricuspid aortic valves (n = 27), calcified bicuspid aortic valves (n = 23), and control tissue from mitral and aortic valves (n = 40). The valves were examined by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction, Western blot, and immunohistochemistry for signaling markers important in osteoblast differentiation: Sox9 and Cbfa1 (transcription factors for osteoblast differentiation); Lrp5 and Wnt3 (osteoblast differentiation signaling marker), osteopontin and osteocalcin (osteoblast endochrondral bone matrix proteins), and proliferating cell nuclear antigen (a marker of cell proliferation). Cartilage development and bone formation was measured by Alcian blue stain and Alizarin red stain. Computed Scano MicroCT-40 (Bassersdorf, Switzerland) analysis measured calcium burden.
Low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 5, osteocalcin, and other osteochrondrogenic differentiation markers were increased in the calcified aortic valves by protein and gene expression (p > 0.001). Sox9, Lrp5 receptor, and osteocalcin were increased in myxomatous mitral valves by protein and gene expression (p > 0.001). MicroCT was positive in the calcified aortic valves and negative in the myxomatous mitral valves.
The mechanism of valvular heart disease involves an endochondral bone process that is expressed as cartilage in the mitral valves and bone in the aortic valves. Up-regulation of the Lrp5 pathway may play a role in the mechanism for valvular heart disease.
PMCID: PMC3951851  PMID: 16631011
13.  Cellular Mechanisms of Aortic Valve Calcification 
Acquired aortic valve disease and valvular calcification is highly prevalent in adult populations worldwide and is associated with significant cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. At present, there are no medical therapies that will prevent or regress aortic valve calcification or stenosis and surgical or transcatheter aortic valve replacement remain the only effective therapies for treating this disease. In the setting of valve injury as a result of exposure to biochemical mediators or hemodynamic forces, normal homeostatic processes are disrupted resulting in extracellular matrix degradation, aberrant matrix deposition and fibrosis, inflammatory cell infiltration, lipid accumulation, and neoangiogenesis of the valve tissue and, ultimately, calcification of the valve. Calcification of the aortic valve is now understood to be an active process that involves the coordinated actions of resident valve endothelial and interstitial cells, circulating inflammatory and immune cells, and bone marrow-derived cells. These cells may undergo a phenotype transition to become osteoblast-like cells and elaborate bone matrix, endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition, and form matrix vesicles that serve as a nidus for microcalcifications. Each of these mechanisms has been shown to contribute to aortic valve calcification suggesting that strategies that target these cellular events may lead to novel therapeutic interventions to halt the progression or reverse aortic valve calcification.
PMCID: PMC3427002  PMID: 22896576
Calcification; Aortic Valve
14.  The principal neuronal gD-type 3-O-sulfotransferases and their products in central and peripheral nervous system tissues 
Within the nervous system, heparan sulfate (HS) of the cell surface and extracellular matrix influences developmental, physiologic and pathologic processes. HS is a functionally diverse polysaccharide that employs motifs of sulfate groups to selectively bind and modulate various effector proteins. Specific HS activities are modulated by 3-O-sulfated glucosamine residues, which are generated by a family of seven 3-O-sulfotransferases (3-OSTs). Most isoforms we herein designate as gD-type 3-OSTs because they generate HSgD+, 3-O-sulfated motifs that bind the gD envelope protein of herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and thereby mediate viral cellular entry. Certain gD-type isoforms are anticipated to modulate neurobiologic events, because a Drosophila gD-type 3-OST is essential for a conserved neurogenic signaling pathway regulated by Notch. Information about 3-OST isoforms expressed in the nervous system of mammals is incomplete. Here, we identify the 3-OST isoforms having properties compatible with their participation in neurobiologic events. We show that 3-OST-2 and 3-OST-4 are principal isoforms of brain. We find these are gD-type enzymes, as they produce products similar to a prototypical gD-type isoform, and they can modify HS to generate receptors for HSV-1 entry into cells. Therefore, 3-OST-2 and 3-OST-4 catalyze modifications similar or identical to those made by the Drosophila gD-type 3-OST that has a role in regulating Notch signaling. We also find that 3-OST-2 and 3-OST-4 are the predominant isoforms expressed in neurons of the trigeminal ganglion, and 3-OST-2/4-type 3-O-sulfated residues occur in this ganglion and in select brain regions. Thus, 3-OST-2 and 3-OST-4 are the major neural gD-type 3-OSTs, and so are prime candidates for participating in HS-dependent neurobiologic events.
PMCID: PMC1993827  PMID: 17482450
Heparan sulfate proteoglycan; 3-O-sulfotransferase; brain; herpes simplex virus; gD
15.  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
16.  Twist1 promotes heart valve cell proliferation and extracellular matrix gene expression during development in vivo and is expressed in human diseased aortic valves 
Developmental biology  2010;347(1):167-179.
During embryogenesis the heart valves develop from undifferentiated mesenchymal endocardial cushions (EC), and activated interstitial cells of adult diseased valves share characteristics of embryonic valve progenitors. Twist1, a class II basic-helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor, is expressed during early EC development and is downregulated later during valve remodeling. The requirements for Twist1 down-regulation in the remodeling valves and the consequences of prolonged Twist1 activity were examined in transgenic mice with persistent expression of Twist1 in developing and mature valves. Persistent Twist1 expression in the remodeling valves leads to increased valve cell proliferation, increased expression of Tbx20, and increased extracellular matrix (ECM) gene expression, characteristic of early valve progenitors. Among the ECM genes predominant in the EC, Col2a1 was identified as a direct transcriptional target of Twist1. Increased Twist1 expression also leads to dysregulation of fibrillar collagen and periostin expression, as well as enlarged hypercellular valve leaflets prior to birth. In human diseased aortic valves, increased Twist1 expression and cell proliferation are observed adjacent to nodules of calcification. Overall, these data implicate Twist1 as a critical regulator of valve development and suggest that Twist1 influences ECM production and cell proliferation during disease.
PMCID: PMC2950232  PMID: 20804746
heart valve development; aortic valve disease; Twist1; bHLH transcription factor; extracellular matrix; cell proliferation
17.  Inhibitory Role of Notch1 in Calcific Aortic Valve Disease 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e27743.
Aortic valve calcification is the most common form of valvular heart disease, but the mechanisms of calcific aortic valve disease (CAVD) are unknown. NOTCH1 mutations are associated with aortic valve malformations and adult-onset calcification in families with inherited disease. The Notch signaling pathway is critical for multiple cell differentiation processes, but its role in the development of CAVD is not well understood. The aim of this study was to investigate the molecular changes that occur with inhibition of Notch signaling in the aortic valve. Notch signaling pathway members are expressed in adult aortic valve cusps, and examination of diseased human aortic valves revealed decreased expression of NOTCH1 in areas of calcium deposition. To identify downstream mediators of Notch1, we examined gene expression changes that occur with chemical inhibition of Notch signaling in rat aortic valve interstitial cells (AVICs). We found significant downregulation of Sox9 along with several cartilage-specific genes that were direct targets of the transcription factor, Sox9. Loss of Sox9 expression has been published to be associated with aortic valve calcification. Utilizing an in vitro porcine aortic valve calcification model system, inhibition of Notch activity resulted in accelerated calcification while stimulation of Notch signaling attenuated the calcific process. Finally, the addition of Sox9 was able to prevent the calcification of porcine AVICs that occurs with Notch inhibition. In conclusion, loss of Notch signaling contributes to aortic valve calcification via a Sox9-dependent mechanism.
PMCID: PMC3218038  PMID: 22110751
18.  Human Aortic Valve Calcification Is Associated With an Osteoblast Phenotype 
Circulation  2003;107(17):2181-2184.
Calcific aortic stenosis is the third most common cardiovascular disease in the United States. We hypothesized that the mechanism for aortic valve calcification is similar to skeletal bone formation and that this process is mediated by an osteoblast-like phenotype.
Methods and Results
To test this hypothesis, we examined calcified human aortic valves replaced at surgery (n=22) and normal human valves (n=20) removed at time of cardiac transplantation. Contact microradiography and micro-computerized tomography were used to assess the 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional extent of mineralization. Mineralization borders were identified with von Kossa and Goldner’s stains. Electron microscopy and energy-dispersive spectroscopy were performed for identification of bone ultrastructure and CaPO4 composition. To analyze for the osteoblast and bone markers, reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction was performed on calcified versus normal human valves for osteopontin, bone sialoprotein, osteocalcin, alkaline phosphatase, and the osteoblast-specific transcription factor Cbfa1. Microradiography and micro-computerized tomography confirmed the presence of calcification in the valve. Special stains for hydroxyapatite and CaPO4 were positive in calcification margins. Electron microscopy identified mineralization, whereas energy-dispersive spectroscopy confirmed the presence of elemental CaPO4. Reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction revealed increased mRNA levels of osteopontin, bone sialoprotein, osteocalcin, and Cbfa1 in the calcified valves. There was no change in alkaline phosphatase mRNA level but an increase in the protein expression in the diseased valves.
These findings support the concept that aortic valve calcification is not a random degenerative process but an active regulated process associated with an osteoblast-like phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3922288  PMID: 12719282
valves; stenosis; calcium
19.  5-HT2B antagonism arrests non-canonical TGF-β1-induced valvular myofibroblast differentiation 
Transforming growth factor-β1 (TGF-β1) induces myofibroblast activation of quiescent aortic valve interstitial cells (AVICs), a differentiation process implicated in calcific aortic valve disease (CAVD). The ubiquity of TGF-β1 signaling makes it difficult to target in a tissue specific manner; however, the serotonin 2B receptor (5-HT2B) is highly localized to cardiopulmonary tissues and agonism of this receptor displays pro-fibrotic effects in a TGF-β1-dependent manner. Therefore, we hypothesized that antagonism of 5-HT2B opposes TGF-β1-induced pathologic differentiation of AVICs and may offer a druggable target to prevent CAVD. To test this hypothesis, we assessed the interaction of 5-HT2B antagonism with canonical and non-canonical TGF-β1 pathways to inhibit TGF-β1-induced activation of isolated porcine AVICs in vitro. Here we show that AVIC activation and subsequent calcific nodule formation is completely mitigated by 5-HT2B antagonism. Interestingly, 5-HT2B antagonism does not inhibit canonical TGF-β1 signaling as identified by Smad3 phosphorylation and activation of a partial plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 promoter (PAI-1, a transcriptional target of Smad3), but prevents non-canonical p38 MAPK phosphorylation. It was initially suspected that 5-HT2B antagonism prevents Src tyrosine kinase phosphorylation; however, we found that this is not the case and time-lapse microscopy indicates that 5-HT2B antagonism prevents non-canonical TGF-β1 signaling by physically arresting Src tyrosine kinase. This study demonstrates the necessity of non-canonical TGF-β1 signaling in leading to pathologic AVIC differentiation. Moreover, we believe that the results of this study suggest 5-HT2B antagonism as a novel therapeutic approach for CAVD that merits further investigation.
PMCID: PMC3472096  PMID: 22940605
heart valves; calcification; TGF-β1; serotonin receptors
20.  Increased cellular expression of matrix proteins that regulate mineralization is associated with calcification of native human and porcine xenograft bioprosthetic heart valves. 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  1997;99(5):996-1009.
Dystrophic mineralization remains the leading cause of stenotic or regurgitant failure in native human and porcine bioprosthetic heart valves. We hypothesized that cellular expression of noncollagenous matrix proteins (osteopontin, osteocalcin, and osteonectin) that regulate skeletal mineralization may orchestrate valvular calcification. Porcine bioprosthetic heart valves and native human heart valves obtained during replacement surgery were analyzed for cells, matrix proteins that regulate mineralization, and vessels. Cell accumulation and calcification were correlated for both valve types (rho = 0.75, P = 0.01, native; rho = 0.42, P = 0.08, bioprosthetic). Osteopontin expression correlated with cell accumulation (rho = 0.58, P = 0.04) and calcification (rho = 0.52, P = 0.06) for bioprosthetic valves. Osteocalcin expression correlated with calcification (rho = 0.77, P = 0.04) and cell accumulation (rho = 0.69, P = 0.07) in native valves. Comparisons of calcified versus noncalcified native and bioprosthetic valves for averaged total matrix protein mRNA signal score revealed increased noncollagenous proteins mRNA levels in calcified valves (P = 0.07, group I vs. group II; P = 0.02, group III vs. group IV). When stratified according to positive versus negative mRNA signal status, both calcified bioprosthetic valves (P = 0.03) and calcified native valves (P = 0.01) were significantly more positive for noncollagenous proteins mRNA than their noncalcified counterparts. Local cell-associated expression of proteins regulating mineralization suggests a highly coordinated mechanism of bioprosthetic and native valve calcification analogous to physiologic bone mineralization. Modulation of cellular infiltration or cellular expression of matrix proteins that regulate mineralization, may offer an effective therapeutic approach to the prevention of valve failure secondary to calcification.
PMCID: PMC507908  PMID: 9062358
21.  Relationship between sclerostin and cardiovascular calcification in hemodialysis patients: a cross-sectional study 
BMC Nephrology  2013;14:219.
Sclerostin is a Wnt pathway antagonist regulating osteoblast activity and bone turnover. Here, we assessed the potential association of sclerostin with the development of coronary artery (CAC) and aortic valve calcifications (AVC) in haemodialysis (HD) patients.
We conducted a cross-sectional multi-slice computed tomography (MS-CT) scanning study in 67 chronic HD patients (59.4 ± 14.8 yrs) for measurement of CAC and AVC. We tested established biomarkers as well as serum sclerostin (ELISA) regarding their association to the presence of calcification. Fifty-four adults without relevant renal disease served as controls for serum sclerostin levels. Additionally, sclerostin expression in explanted aortic valves from 15 dialysis patients was analysed ex vivo by immunohistochemistry and mRNA quantification (Qt-RT-PCR).
CAC (Agatston score > 100) and any AVC were present in 65% and in 40% of the MS-CT patient group, respectively. Serum sclerostin levels (1.53 ± 0.81 vs 0.76 ± 0.31 ng/mL, p < 0.001) were significantly elevated in HD compared to controls and more so in HD patients with AVC versus those without AVC (1.78 ± 0.84 vs 1.35 ± 0.73 ng/mL, p = 0.02). Multivariable regression analysis for AVC revealed significant associations with higher serum sclerostin. Ex vivo analysis of uraemic calcified aortic valves (n = 10) revealed a strong sclerostin expression very close to calcified regions (no sclerostin staining in non-calcified valves). Correspondingly, we observed a highly significant upregulation of sclerostin mRNA in calcified valves compared to non-calcified control valves.
We found a strong association of sclerostin with calcifying aortic heart valve disease in haemodialysis patients. Sclerostin is locally produced in aortic valve tissue adjacent to areas of calcification.
PMCID: PMC3851854  PMID: 24112318
Aortic valve disease; Cardiovascular disease; Coronary calcification; Hemodialysis; Mineral metabolism; Vascular calcification; Renal osteodystrophy; Sclerostin
22.  Manipulation of valve composition to elucidate the role of collagen in aortic valve calcification 
Extracellular matrix (ECM) disarray is found in calcific aortic valvular disease (CAVD), yet much remains to be learned about the role of individual ECM components in valvular interstitial cell (VIC) function and dysfunction. Previous clinical analyses have shown that calcification is associated with decreased collagen content, while previous in vitro work has suggested that the presence of collagen attenuates the responsiveness of VICs to pro-calcific stimuli. The current study uses whole leaflet cultures to examine the contributions of endogenous collagen in regulating the phenotype and calcification of VICs.
A “top-down” approach was used to characterize changes in VIC phenotype in response to collagen alterations in the native 3D environment. Collagen-deficient leaflets were created via enzymatic treatment and cultured statically for six days in vitro. After culture, leaflets were harvested for analysis of DNA, proliferation, apoptosis, ECM composition, calcification, and gene/protein expression.
In general, disruption of collagen was associated with increased expression of disease markers by VICs in whole organ leaflet culture. Compared to intact control leaflets, collagen-deficient leaflets demonstrated increased VIC proliferation and apoptosis, increased expression of disease-related markers such as alpha-smooth muscle actin, alkaline phosphatase, and osteocalcin, and an increase in calcification as evidenced by positive von Kossa staining.
These results indicate that disruption of the endogenous collagen structure in aortic valves is sufficient to stimulate pathological consequences in valve leaflet cultures, thereby highlighting the importance of collagen and the valve extracellular matrix in general in maintaining homeostasis of the valve phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3946110  PMID: 24581344
Valvular interstitial cells; Calcific aortic valve disease; Collagen; Extracellular matrix
23.  Atorvastatin inhibits calcification and enhances nitric oxide synthase production in the hypercholesterolaemic aortic valve 
Heart  2005;91(6):806-810.
Objective: To study in a rabbit model the expression of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) in association with the development of calcification of the aortic valve, and to assess the effects of atorvastatin on eNOS expression, nitrite concentration, and aortic valve calcification.
Methods: Rabbits (n  =  48) were treated for three months: 16, forming a control group, were fed a normal diet; 16 were fed a 0.5% (wt/wt) high cholesterol diet; and 16 were fed a 0.5% (wt/wt) cholesterol diet plus atorvastatin (2.5 mg/kg/day). The aortic valves were examined with eNOS immunostains and western blotting. Cholesterol and high sensitivity C reactive protein (hsCRP) concentrations were determined by standard assays. Serum nitrite concentrations were measured with a nitric oxide analyser. eNOS was localised by electron microscopy and immunogold labelling. Calcification in the aortic valve was evaluated by micro-computed tomography (CT).
Results: Cholesterol, hsCRP, and aortic valve calcification were increased in the cholesterol fed compared with control animals. Atorvastatin inhibited calcification in the aortic valve as assessed by micro-CT. eNOS protein concentrations were unchanged in the control and cholesterol groups but increased in the atorvastatin treated group. Serum nitrite concentrations were decreased in the hypercholesterolaemic animals and increased in the group treated with atorvastatin.
Conclusion: These data provide evidence that chronic experimental hypercholesterolaemia produces bone mineralisation in the aortic valve, which is inhibited by atorvastatin.
PMCID: PMC1768932  PMID: 15894785
nitric oxide; statins; aortic valve; calcification; micro-CT
24.  Cellular Changes during Renal Failure-Induced Inflammatory Aortic Valve Disease 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(6):e0129725.
Aortic valve calcification (AVC) secondary to renal failure (RF) is an inflammation-regulated process, but its pathogenesis remains unknown. We sought to assess the cellular processes that are involved in the early phases of aortic valve disease using a unique animal model of RF-associated AVC.
Aortic valves were obtained from rats that were fed a uremia-inducing diet exclusively for 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 weeks as well as from controls. Pathological examination of the valves included histological characterization, von Kossa staining, and antigen expression analyses.
After 2 weeks, we noted a significant increase in urea and creatinine levels, reflecting RF. RF parameters exacerbated until the Week 5 and plateaued. Whereas no histological changes or calcification was observed in the valves of any study group, macrophage accumulation became apparent as early as 2 weeks after the diet was started and rose after 3 weeks. By western blot, osteoblast markers were expressed after 2 weeks on the diet and decreased after 6 weeks. Collagen 3 was up-regulated after 3 weeks, plateauing at 4 weeks, whereas collagen 1 levels peaked at 2 and 4 weeks. Fibronectin levels increased gradually until Week 5 and decreased at 6 weeks. We observed early activation of the ERK pathway, whereas other pathways remained unchanged.
We concluded that RF induces dramatic changes at the cellular level, including macrophage accumulation, activation of cell signaling pathway and extracellular matrix modification. These changes precede valve calcification and may increase propensity for calcification, and have to be investigated further.
PMCID: PMC4466485  PMID: 26070132
25.  Elastin Haploinsufficiency Results in Progressive Aortic Valve Malformation and Latent Valve Disease in a Mouse Model 
Circulation research  2010;107(4):549-557.
Elastin is a ubiquitous extracellular matrix (ECM) protein that is highly organized in heart valves and arteries. Because elastic fiber abnormalities are a central feature of degenerative valve disease, we hypothesized that elastin deficient mice would manifest viable heart valve disease.
To analyze valve structure and function in elastin insufficient mice (Eln+/−) at neonatal, juvenile, adult and aged adult stages.
Methods and Results
At birth, histochemical analysis demonstrated normal ECM organization in contrast to the aorta. However, at juvenile and adult stages thin elongated valves with ECM disorganization, including elastin fragment infiltration of the annulus, were observed. The valve phenotype worsened by the aged adult stage with overgrowth and proteoglycan replacement of the valve annulus. The progressive nature of elastin insufficiency was also shown by aortic mechanical testing that demonstrated incrementally abnormal tensile stiffness from juvenile to adult stages. Eln+/− mice demonstrated increased valve interstitial cell (VIC) proliferation at the neonatal stage and varied VIC activation at early and late stages. Gene expression profile analysis identified decreased TGF-β mediated fibrogenesis signaling in Eln+/− valve tissue. Juvenile Eln+/− mice demonstrated normal valve function, but progressive valve disease (predominantly aortic regurgitation) was identified in 17% of adult and 70% of aged adult Eln+/− mice by echocardiography.
These results identify the Eln+/− mouse as a model of latent aortic valve disease and establish a role for elastin dysregulation in valve pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC2928934  PMID: 20576933
valve disease; extracellular matrix; valvular interstitial cells

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