Transitions in early embryonic atrioventricular valvular function correspond with changes in cushion biomechanics that are predictable by tissue composition

Circ Res. 2007 May 25;100(10):1503-11. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.107.148684. Epub 2007 May 3.


Endocardial cushions are critical to maintain unidirectional blood flow under constantly increasing hemodynamic forces, but the interrelationship between endocardial cushion structure and the mechanics of atrioventricular junction function is poorly understood. Atrioventricular (AV) canal motions and blood velocities of embryonic chicks at Hamburger and Hamilton (HH) stages 17, 21, and 25 were quantified using ultrasonography. Similar to the embryonic zebrafish heart, the HH17 AV segment functions like a suction pump, with the cushions expanding in a wave during peak myocardial contraction and becoming undetectable during the relaxation phase. By HH25, the AV canal contributes almost nothing to the piston-like propulsion of blood, but the cushions function as stoppers apposing blood flow with near constant thickness. Using a custom built mesomechanical testing system, we quantified the nonlinear pseudoelastic biomechanics of developing AV cushions, and found that both AV cushions increased in effective modulus between HH17 and HH25. Enzymatic digestion of major structural constituent collagens or glycosaminoglycans resulted in distinctly different stress-strain curves suggestive of their individual contributions. Mixture theory using histologically determined volume fractions of cells, collagen, and glycosaminoglycans showed good prediction of cushion material properties regardless of stage and cushion position. These results have important implications in valvular development, as biomechanics may play a larger role in stimulating valvulogenic events than previously thought.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Blood Flow Velocity
  • Chick Embryo
  • Collagen / analysis
  • Coronary Circulation
  • Echocardiography
  • Glycosaminoglycans / analysis
  • Glycosaminoglycans / physiology
  • Heart Conduction System / physiology
  • Heart Valves / chemistry
  • Heart Valves / embryology*
  • Heart Valves / physiology


  • Glycosaminoglycans
  • Collagen