The importance of the epicardium for myocardial and valvuloseptal development has been well established; perturbation of epicardial development results in cardiac abnormalities, including thinning of the ventricular myocardial wall and malformations of the atrioventricular valvuloseptal complex. To determine the spatiotemporal contribution of epicardially derived cells to the developing fibroblast population in the heart, we have used a mWt1/IRES/GFP-Cre mouse to trace the fate of EPDCs from embryonic day (ED)10 until birth. EPDCs begin to populate the compact ventricular myocardium around ED12. The migration of epicardially derived fibroblasts toward the interface between compact and trabecular myocardium is completed around ED14. Remarkably, epicardially derived fibroblasts do not migrate into the trabecular myocardium until after ED17. Migration of EPDCs into the atrioventricular cushion mesenchyme commences around ED12. As development progresses, the number of EPDCs increases significantly, specifically in the leaflets which derive from the lateral atrioventricular cushions. In these developing leaflets the epicardially derived fibroblasts eventually largely replace the endocardially derived cells. Importantly, the contribution of EPDCs to the leaflets derived from the major AV cushions is very limited. The differential contribution of EPDCs to the various leaflets of the atrioventricular valves provides a new paradigm in valve development and could lead to new insights into the pathogenesis of abnormalities that preferentially affect individual components of this region of the heart. The notion that there is a significant difference in the contribution of epicardially and endocardially derived cells to the individual leaflets of the atrioventricular valves has also important pragmatic consequences for the use of endocardial and epicardial cre-mouse models in studies of heart development.
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