During valvulogenesis, globular endocardial cushions elongate and remodel into highly organized thin fibrous leaflets. Proper regulation of this dynamic process is essential to maintain unidirectional blood flow as the embryonic heart matures. In this study, we tested how mechanosensitive small GTPases, RhoA and Rac1, coordinate atrioventricular valve (AV) differentiation and morphogenesis. RhoA activity and its regulated GTPase-activating protein FilGAP are elevated during early cushion formation but decreased considerably during valve remodeling. In contrast, Rac1 activity was nearly absent in the early cushions but increased substantially as the valve matured. Using gain- and loss-of-function assays, we determined that the RhoA pathway was essential for the contractile myofibroblastic phenotype present in early cushion formation but was surprisingly insufficient to drive matrix compaction during valve maturation. The Rac1 pathway was necessary to induce matrix compaction in vitro through increased cell adhesion, elongation, and stress fiber alignment. Facilitating this process, we found that acute cyclic stretch was a potent activator of RhoA and subsequently downregulated Rac1 activity via FilGAP. On the other hand, chronic cyclic stretch reduced active RhoA and downstream FilGAP, which enabled Rac1 activation. Finally, we used partial atrial ligation experiments to confirm in vivo that altered cyclic mechanical loading augmented or restricted cushion elongation and thinning, directly through potentiation of active Rac1 and active RhoA, respectively. Together, these results demonstrate that cyclic mechanical signaling coordinates the RhoA to Rac1 signaling transition essential for proper embryonic mitral valve remodeling.
Keywords: FilGAP; filamin-A; malformation; mechanotransduction; myofibroblast.
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