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Circ Res. 1986 Sep;59(3):310-20.

Interstitial cells of the heart valves possess characteristics similar to smooth muscle cells.


Interstitial cells of heart atrioventricular and sigmoid valves were examined in several laboratory animals (rabbit, hamster, rat, and mouse) and in humans. These cells constitute a large fraction of the total cell population of the valve; in mouse atrioventricular valves, they amount to approximately 30% of the volumetric density. By their ultrastructural features and functional properties, valvular interstitial cells are intermediate between fibroblasts and vascular smooth muscle cells. Like fibroblasts, valvular interstitial cells lack a basal lamina establishing direct and extensive contacts with collagen fibers, elastin microfibrils, and proteoglycans of the matrix. The cells have numerous slender and long processes, connected to one another, forming a complex cellular framework spanning the entire valve. Similar to smooth muscle cells, valvular interstitial cells are extensively coupled by communicating junctions as shown by thin sections, freeze-fracture, lanthanum staining, and carboxyfluorescein microinjection. The cells contain numerous bundles of actin filaments, which are decorated by the S1 fragment of heavy meromyosin. Valvular interstitial cells also express cyclic guanosine-monophosphate-dependent protein kinase, as detected by immunofluorescence and immunoperoxidase histochemistry. Motor nerve endings are located closely apposed to valvular interstitial cells: structurally most of them appear to be of the adrenergic type. Valvular interstitial cells contract on epinephrine or angiotensin II stimulation as shown both in culture and in situ (valvular strips). Taken together these observations suggest that VIC may have contractile properties, which can account for a controlled tonus, actively correlated with the cyclically changing forces acting on valves during diastole and systole.

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