Epithelial-mesenchymal transformations in early avian heart development

R Markwald, C Eisenberg, L Eisenberg, T Trusk, Y Sugi
Acta Anatomica 1996, 156 (3): 173-86
Cardiac morphogenesis proceeds from a sequential series of epithelial-mesenchymal transitions which begins by establishing bipotential heart-forming cells and later their segregation into endocardial and myocardial lineages. Cells within each lineage integrate to form two concentric epithelia which inductively interact to transform cells of the inner epithelium, the endocardium, into mesenchymal or 'cushion' cells. Noncardiogenic epithelia (dorsal mesocardium, epicardium, neural ectoderm and coelomic mesothelium) undergo transition into populations of extracardiac mesenchyme that combine over time with cushion tissue to remodel the simple tubular heart into a four-chambered organ. Model systems are described for studying the mechanisms of cardiac-related transformations including primary cultures of precardiac epithelia and a differentiation-inducible, avian stem cell line called QCE-6. Focus is centered on the molecular mechanism by which endocardial epithelium transforms into cushion mesenchyme. Experimental findings are reviewed and interpreted in the context of a hypothetical model that seeks to answer why only some cells within an epithelium transform and whether the transformation process is regulated by intrinsic or extrinsic mechanisms. The model proposes that epithelial cells competent to transform to mesenchyme express characteristic markers including receptors for extrinsic signals secreted by stimulator cells (e.g. myocardium). Candidate extrinsic signals include multicomponent complexes called adherons. If applied directly to cultured endocardium, myocardial adherons but not those secreted by L6 myoblasts, induce changes in gene expression within target endocardial cells for proteases and cell:cell and cell:matrix adhesion molecules that accompanied transformation to mesenchyme. A main component of myocardial adherons has been identified as ES antigens, one of which, ES/130, has been cloned, found to have a novel sequence and in culture assays shown to be required for endocardium to transform to mesenchyme. The spatiotemporal pattern of ES protein expression within the embryo suggests that common mechanisms may exist for embryonic epithelial-mesenchymal transformations.

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