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Dev Biol. 2003 Jun 15;258(2):252-63.

Fibroblast growth factor (FGF)-4 can induce proliferation of cardiac cushion mesenchymal cells during early valve leaflet formation.

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Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy and Cardiovascular Developmental Biology Center, Medical University of South Carolina, 171 Ashley Avenue, Charleston, SC 29425, USA.


While much has been learned about how endothelial cells transform to mesenchyme during cardiac cushion formation, there remain fundamental questions about the developmental fate of cushions. In the present work, we focus on the growth and development of cushion mesenchyme. We hypothesize that proliferative expansion and distal elongation of cushion mesenchyme mediated by growth factors are the basis of early valve leaflet formation. As a first step to test this hypothesis, we have localized fibroblast growth factor (FGF)-4 protein in cushion mesenchymal cells at the onset of prevalve leaflet formation in chick embryos (Hamburger and Hamilton stage 20-25). Ligand distribution was correlated with FGF receptor (FGFR) expression. In situ hybridization data indicated that FGFR3 mRNA was confined to the endocardial rim of the atrioventricular (AV) cushion pads, whereas FGFR2 was expressed exclusively in cushion mesenchymal cells. FGFR1 expression was detected in both endocardium and cushion mesenchyme as well as in myocardium. To determine whether the FGF pathways play regulatory roles in cushion mesenchymal cell proliferation and elongation into prevalvular structure, FGF-4 protein was added to the cushion mesenchymal cells explanted from stage 24-25 chick embryos. A significant increase in proliferative ability was strongly suggested in FGF-4-treated mesenchymal cells as judged by the incorporation of 5'-bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU). To determine whether cushion cells responded similarly in vivo, a replication-defective retrovirus encoding FGF-4 with the reporter, bacterial beta-galactosidase was microinjected into stage 18 chick cardiac cushion mesenchyme along the inner curvature where AV and outflow cushions converge. As compared with vector controls, overexpression of FGF-4 clearly induced expansion of cushion mesenchyme toward the lumen. To further test the proliferative effect of FGF-4 in cardiac cushion expansion in vivo (ovo), FGF-4 protein was microinjected into stage 18 chick inner curvature. An assay for BrdU incorporation indicated a significant increase in proliferative ability in FGF-4 microinjected cardiac cushion mesenchyme as compared with BSA-microinjected controls. Together, these results suggest a role of FGF-4 for cardiac valve leaflet formation through proliferative expansion of cushion mesenchyme.

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