PloS one

Twist1 transcriptional targets in the developing atrio-ventricular canal of the mouse.

PMID 22815831


Malformations of the cardiovascular system are the most common type of birth defect in humans, frequently affecting the formation of valves and septa. During heart valve and septa formation, cells from the atrio-ventricular canal (AVC) and outflow tract (OFT) regions of the heart undergo an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transformation (EMT) and invade the underlying extracellular matrix to give rise to endocardial cushions. Subsequent maturation of newly formed mesenchyme cells leads to thin stress-resistant leaflets. TWIST1 is a basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor expressed in newly formed mesenchyme cells of the AVC and OFT that has been shown to play roles in cell survival, cell proliferation and differentiation. However, the downstream targets of TWIST1 during heart valve formation remain unclear. To identify genes important for heart valve development downstream of TWIST1, we performed global gene expression profiling of AVC, OFT, atria and ventricles of the embryonic day 10.5 mouse heart by tag-sequencing (Tag-seq). Using this resource we identified a novel set of 939 genes, including 123 regulators of transcription, enriched in the valve forming regions of the heart. We compared these genes to a Tag-seq library from the Twist1 null developing valves revealing significant gene expression changes. These changes were consistent with a role of TWIST1 in controlling differentiation of mesenchymal cells following their transformation from endothelium in the mouse. To study the role of TWIST1 at the DNA level we performed chromatin immunoprecipitation and identified novel direct targets of TWIST1 in the developing heart valves. Our findings support a role for TWIST1 in the differentiation of AVC mesenchyme post-EMT in the mouse, and suggest that TWIST1 can exert its function by direct DNA binding to activate valve specific gene expression.