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Ann Anat. 2006 May;188(3):213-20.

Bridging the gap between anatomy and molecular genetics for an improved understanding of congenital heart disease.

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Drug Research and Medical Biotechnology, Fraunhofer Institute of Toxicology and Experimental Medicine, Nikolai-Fuchs-Strasse 1, D-30625 Hannover, Germany.


Birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality and malformations in congenital heart disease (CHD) are among the most prevalent and fatal of all birth defects. Yet the molecular mechanisms leading to CHD are complex and the causes of the cardiac malformations observed in humans are still unclear. In recent years, the pivotal role of certain transcription factors in heart development has been demonstrated, and gene targeting of cardiac-specific transcription factor genes in animal models has provided valuable insights into heart anomalies. Nonetheless results in these models can be species specific, and in humans, germline mutations in transcription factor genes can only account for some cases of CHD. Furthermore, most patients do not have family history of CHD. There is, therefore, a need for a better understanding of the mechanisms in both normal cardiac development and the formation of malformations. The combining of expertise in cardiac anatomy, pathology, and molecular genetics is essential to adequately comprehend developmental abnormalities associated with CHD. To help elucidate genetic alterations in affected tissues of malformed hearts, we carried out genetic analysis of cardiac-specific transcription factor genes from the Leipzig collection of formalin-fixed malformed hearts. Working with this morphologically well-characterized archival material not only provided valuable genetic information associated with disease, but enabled us to put forward a hypothesis of somatic mutations as a novel molecular cause of CHD. Knowledge of cause and disease mechanism may allow for intervention that could modify the degree of cardiac malformations or development of new approaches for prevention of CHD.

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