Recent studies using mouse models for cell fate tracing of epicardial derived cells (EPDCs) have demonstrated that at the atrioventricular (AV) junction EPDCs contribute to the mesenchyme of the AV sulcus, the annulus fibrosus, and the parietal leaflets of the AV valves. There is little insight, however, into the mechanisms that govern the contribution of EPDCs to these tissues. While it has been demonstrated that bone morphogenetic protein (Bmp) signaling is required for AV cushion formation, its role in regulating EPDC contribution to the AV junction remains unexplored. To determine the role of Bmp signaling in the contribution of EPDCs to the AV junction, the Bmp receptor activin-like kinase 3 (Alk3; or Bmpr1a) was conditionally deleted in the epicardium and EPDCs using the mWt1/IRES/GFP-Cre (Wt1(Cre)) mouse. Embryonic Wt1(Cre);Alk3(fl/fl) specimens showed a significantly smaller AV sulcus and a severely underdeveloped annulus fibrosus. Electrophysiological analysis of adult Wt1(Cre);Alk3(fl/fl) mice showed, unexpectedly, no ventricular pre-excitation. Cell fate tracing revealed a significant decrease in the number of EPDCs within the parietal leaflets of the AV valves. Postnatal Wt1(Cre);Alk3(fl/fl) specimens showed myxomatous changes in the leaflets of the mitral valve. Together these observations indicate that Alk3 mediated Bmp signaling is important in the cascade of events that regulate the contribution of EPDCs to the AV sulcus, annulus fibrosus, and the parietal leaflets of the AV valves. Furthermore, this study shows that EPDCs do not only play a critical role in early developmental events at the AV junction, but that they also are important in the normal maturation of the AV valves.
Keywords: Bone morphogenetic protein; Development; Epicardium; Myxomatous; Valves.
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