The beating heart is subject to intrinsic mechanical factors, exerted by contraction of the myocardium (stretch and strain) and fluid forces of the enclosed blood (wall shear stress). The earliest contractions of the heart occur already in the 10-somite stage in the tubular as yet unsegmented heart. With development, the looping heart becomes asymmetric providing varying diameters and curvatures resulting in unequal flow profiles. These flow profiles exert various wall shear stresses and as a consequence different expression patterns of shear responsive genes. In this paper we investigate the morphological alterations of the heart after changing the blood flow by ligation of the right vitelline vein in a model chicken embryo and analyze the extended expression in the endocardial cushions of the shear responsive gene Tgfbeta receptor III. A major phenomenon is the diminished endocardial-mesenchymal transition resulting in hypoplastic (even absence of) atrioventricular and outflow tract endocardial cushions, which might be lethal in early phases. The surviving embryos exhibit several cardiac malformations including ventricular septal defects and malformed semilunar valves related to abnormal development of the aortopulmonary septal complex and the enclosed neural crest cells. We discuss the results in the light of the interactions between several shear stress responsive signaling pathways including an extended review of the involved Vegf, Notch, Pdgf, Klf2, eNos, Endothelin and Tgfβ/Bmp/Smad networks.
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