Tissue assembly in the developing embryo is a rapid and complex process. While much research has focused on genetic regulatory machinery, understanding tissue level changes such as biomechanical remodeling remains a challenging experimental enigma. In the particular case of embryonic atrioventricular valves, micro-scale, amorphous cushions rapidly remodel into fibrous leaflets while simultaneously interacting with a demanding mechanical environment. In this study we employ two microscale mechanical measurement systems in conjunction with finite element analysis to quantify valve stiffening during valvulogenesis. The pipette aspiration technique is compared to a uniaxial load deformation, and the analytic expression for a uniaxially loaded bar is used to estimate the nonlinear material parameters of the experimental data. Effective modulus and strain energy density are analyzed as potential metrics for comparing mechanical stiffness. Avian atrioventricular valves from globular Hamburger-Hamilton stages HH25-HH34 were tested via the pipette method, while the planar HH36 leaflets were tested using the deformable post technique. Strain energy density between HH25 and HH34 septal leaflets increased 4.6±1.8 fold (±SD). The strain energy density of the HH36 septal leaflet was four orders of magnitude greater than the HH34 pipette result. Our results establish morphological thresholds for employing the micropipette aspiration and deformable post techniques for measuring uniaxial mechanical properties of embryonic tissues. Quantitative biomechanical analysis is an important and underserved complement to molecular and genetic experimentation of embryonic morphogenesis.
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