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Circ Res. 2006 Sep 15;99(6):583-9. Epub 2006 Aug 24.

Depolymerized hyaluronan induces vascular endothelial growth factor, a negative regulator of developmental epithelial-to-mesenchymal transformation.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, College of Pharmacy, The University of Arizona, Tucson 85721, USA.


Cardiac malformations constitute the most common birth defects, of which heart septal and valve defects are the most frequent forms diagnosed in infancy. These cardiac structures arise from the endocardial cushions through dynamic interactions between cells and the extracellular matrix (cardiac jelly). Targeted deletion of the hyaluronan synthase-2 (Has2) gene in mice results in an absence of hyaluronan (HA), cardiac jelly, and endocardial cushions, a loss of vascular integrity, and death at embryonic day 9.5. Despite the requirements for Has2 and its product, HA, in the developing heart, little is known about the normal processing and removal of HA during development. Cell culture studies show that HA obtains new bioactivity after depolymerization into small oligosaccharides. We previously showed reduction in Has2 expression and diminished presence of HA at later stages of heart development as tissue remodeling formed the leaflets of the cardiac valves. Here we show that small oligosaccharide forms of HA (o-HA) act antagonistically to developmental epithelial-to-mesenchymal transformation (EMT), which is required to generate the progenitor cells that populate the endocardial cushions. We further show that o-HA induces vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which acts as a negative regulator of EMT. This is the first report illustrating a functional link between oligosaccharide HA and VEGF. Collectively, our data indicate that following endocardial cell EMT, native HA is likely processed to o-HA, which stimulates VEGF activity to attenuate cardiac developmental EMT.

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