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J Cell Biol. 2008 Jul 28;182(2):221-3. doi: 10.1083/jcb.200806186.

The first "Slit" is the deepest: the secret to a hollow heart.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Cell Biology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


Tubular organs are essential for life, but lumen formation in nonepithelial tissues such as the vascular system or heart is poorly understood. Two studies in this issue (Medioni, C., M. Astier, M. Zmojdzian, K. Jagla, and M. Sémériva. 2008. J. Cell Biol. 182:249-261; Santiago-Martínez, E., N.H. Soplop, R. Patel, and S.G. Kramer. 2008. J. Cell Biol. 182:241-248) reveal unexpected roles for the Slit-Robo signaling system during Drosophila melanogaster heart morphogenesis. In cardioblasts, Slit and Robo modulate the cell shape changes and domains of E-cadherin-based adhesion that drive lumen formation. Furthermore, in contrast to the well-known paracrine role of Slit and Robo in guiding cell migrations, here Slit and Robo may act by autocrine signaling. In addition, the two groups demonstrate that heart lumen formation is even more distinct from typical epithelial tubulogenesis mechanisms because the heart lumen is bounded by membrane surfaces that have basal rather than apical attributes. As the D. melanogaster cardioblasts are thought to have significant evolutionary similarity to vertebrate endothelial and cardiac lineages, these findings are likely to provide insights into mechanisms of vertebrate heart and vascular morphogenesis.

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