Model systems for the study of heart development and disease. Cardiac neural crest and conotruncal malformations.
Neural crest cells are multipotential cells that delaminate from the dorsal neural tube and migrate widely throughout the body. A subregion of the cranial neural crest originating between the otocyst and somite 3 has been called "cardiac neural crest" because of the importance of these cells in heart development. Much of what we know about the contribution and function of the cardiac neural crest in cardiovascular development has been learned in the chick embryo using quail-chick chimeras to study neural crest migration and derivatives as well as using ablation of premigratory neural crest cells to study their function. These studies show that cardiac neural crest cells are absolutely required to form the aorticopulmonary septum dividing the cardiac arterial pole into systemic and pulmonary circulations. They support the normal development and patterning of derivatives of the caudal pharyngeal arches and pouches, including the great arteries and the thymus, thyroid and parathyroids. Recently, cardiac neural crest cells have been shown to modulate signaling in the pharynx during the lengthening of the outflow tract by the secondary heart field. Most of the genes associated with cardiac neural crest function have been identified using mouse models. These studies show that the neural crest cells may not be the direct cause of abnormal cardiovascular development but they are a major component in the complex tissue interactions in the caudal pharynx and outflow tract. Since, cardiac neural crest cells span from the caudal pharynx into the outflow tract, they are especially susceptible to any perturbation in or by other cells in these regions. Thus, understanding congenital cardiac outflow malformations in human sequences of malformations as represented by the DiGeorge syndrome will necessarily require understanding development of the cardiac neural crest.
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