Cell biology of cardiac cushion development

Int Rev Cytol. 2005;243:287-335. doi: 10.1016/S0074-7696(05)43005-3.


The valves of the heart develop in the embryo from precursor structures called endocardial cushions. After cardiac looping, endocardial cushion swellings form and become populated by valve precursor cells formed by an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Endocardial cushions subsequently undergo directed growth and remodeling to form the valvular structures and the membranous septa of the mature heart. The developmental processes that mediate cushion formation include many prototypic cellular actions including adhesion, signaling, migration, secretion, replication, differentiation, and apoptosis. Cushion morphogenesis is unique in that these cellular possesses occur in a functioning organ where the cushions act as valves even while developing into definitive valvular structures. Cardiovascular defects are the most common congenital defects, and one of the most common causes of death during infancy. Thus, there is significant interest in understanding the mechanisms that underlie this complex developmental process. In this regard, substantial progress has been made by incorporating an understanding of cardiac morphology and cell biology with the rapidly expanding repertoire of molecular mechanisms gained through human genetics and research using animal models. This article reviews cardiac morphogenesis as it relates to heart valve formation and highlights selected growth factors, intracellular signaling mediators, and extracellular matrix components involved in the creation and remodeling of endocardial cushions into mature cardiac structures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Emigration and Immigration
  • Endocardial Cushion Defects / embryology
  • Endocardial Cushion Defects / pathology
  • Endocardium / embryology*
  • Endocardium / pathology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / physiology
  • Heart / embryology*
  • Heart Valves / embryology*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Morphogenesis / genetics
  • Morphogenesis / physiology
  • Signal Transduction