The Role of Sonic Hedgehog in Outflow Tract Development
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The two major contributing populations to the outflow tract of the heart are the secondary heart field and the cardiac neural crest. These two populations are responsible for providing the myocardium that supports the outflow tract valves, the smooth muscle that surrounds these valves and the outflow vessels themselves, and the septum that divides the primitive, single outflow tract into an aorta and pulmonary trunk. Because the morphogenesis of this region is so complex, its development is regulated by many different signaling pathways. One of these pathways is the Sonic hedgehog pathway. This thesis tests the hypothesis that Sonic hedgehog induces secondary heart field proliferation, which is necessary for normal outflow tract development. To address this hypothesis, I took advantage of small chemical antagonists and agonists to determine how too little or too much hedgehog signaling would affect the secondary heart field, both in in vitro explants and in vivo. I have determined that Sonic hedgehog signaling maintains proliferation in a subset of secondary heart field cells. This proliferation is essential for generating enough myocardium and smooth muscle and also for the cardiac neural crest to septate the outflow tract into two equal-sized vessels. Up-regulating hedgehog signaling induces proliferation, which is quickly down-regulated, showing that the embryo exhibits a great deal of plasticity. Together, these studies have shown that Sonic hedgehog promotes proliferation in a subset of the secondary heart field and that the level of proliferation must be tightly regulated in order to form a normal outflow tract.
cardiac neural crest
secondary heart field
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