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Cell Tissue Res. 2000 Jul;301(1):43-52.

Apoptosis in cardiac development.

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Department of Anatomy and Embryology, LUMC, Leiden, The Netherlands.


Cell degeneration, as a phenomenon accompanying developmental processes, was originally described over a century ago. Apoptosis, a term introduced approximately three decades ago, has occupied investigators particularly with respect to cell and tissue kinetics, emphasizing its role in the disposal of supernumerary, malinstructed or damaged cells. Although apoptosis is mostly related to developmental processes, evidence has been gathered indicating that it may also perform other roles. In this review, which concentrates on cardiac development, we examine focal apoptosis and subsequent signal cascades in combination with timed morphogenetic events. Apoptosis mainly occurs in the non-myocardial compartment of the embryonic heart, a compartment that consists of cells derived from the endocardium, the epicardium and the neural crest. The last-mentioned population invades the outflow tract and the atrioventricular endocardial cushions. The signalling cascade seems to involve the activation of latent transforming growth factor beta, resulting in cardiomyocyte migration and subsequent myocardialization of the endocardial cushions. Aberrant apoptosis accompanies cardiac anomalies. Furthermore, an apoptotic population is found surrounding the developing conduction system. A possible role for differentiation is suggested.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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