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Dev Biol. 2013 Jan 15;373(2):338-48. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2012.10.032. Epub 2012 Nov 7.

Absence of venous valves in mice lacking Connexin37.

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Department of Physiology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85724, USA.


Venous valves play a crucial role in blood circulation, promoting the one-way movement of blood from superficial and deep veins towards the heart. By preventing retrograde flow, venous valves spare capillaries and venules from being subjected to damaging elevations in pressure, especially during skeletal muscle contraction. Pathologically, valvular incompetence or absence of valves are common features of venous disorders such as chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins. The underlying causes of these conditions are not well understood, but congenital venous valve aplasia or agenesis may play a role in some cases. Despite progress in the study of cardiac and lymphatic valve morphogenesis, the molecular mechanisms controlling the development and maintenance of venous valves remain poorly understood. Here, we show that in valved veins of the mouse, three gap junction proteins (Connexins, Cxs), Cx37, Cx43, and Cx47, are expressed exclusively in the valves in a highly polarized fashion, with Cx43 on the upstream side of the valve leaflet and Cx37 on the downstream side. Surprisingly, Cx43 expression is strongly induced in the non-valve venous endothelium in superficial veins following wounding of the overlying skin. Moreover, we show that in Cx37-deficient mice, venous valves are entirely absent. Thus, Cx37, a protein involved in cell-cell communication, is one of only a few proteins identified so far as critical for the development or maintenance of venous valves. Because Cxs are necessary for the development of valves in lymphatic vessels as well, our results support the notion of common molecular pathways controlling valve development in veins and lymphatic vessels.

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