Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Lidia Kos

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Ophelia Weeks

Third Advisor's Name

Fernando Noriega

Fourth Advisor's Name

Leung Kim

Fifth Advisor's Name

Fatma Huffman

Date of Defense



The Neural Crest (NC) is a multipotential group of cells that arises from the dorsal aspect of the neural tube early in development. It is well established that a group of NC cells named Cardiac Neural Crest (CNC) migrates to the heart and plays a critical role in the remodeling of the aortic arch arteries and septation of the outflow tract. In this study, using the mouse mutant Pax3sp/sp that has CNC deficits I have identified a putative novel role for the CNC in regulating apoptosis in the atrioventricular (AV) endocardial cushion. The AV endocardial cushion undergoes remodeling to give rise to the cardiac AV valves. Using a transgenic mouse that carries the LacZ reporter gene under the control of the Dopachrome tautomerase promoter (Dct-LacZ), I found that another NC derived population, melanocyte precursors, also contribute to the AV endocardial cushion and developing AV valves. The analysis of Dct-LacZ embryos at different stages showed that NC cells already committed to the melanocytic fate migrate to the heart along the same initial pathway taken by those that will populate the skin. Hypopigmented mice carrying mutations in the Kit and Endothelin receptor b genes, that are critical for the proper development of skin melanocytes, do not have cardiac melanocytes indicating that cardiac and skin melanocyte precursors share the same initial signaling requirements. The analysis of murine adult hearts showed that melanocytes are mostly found in the atrial sides of the tricuspid and mitral valve leaflets. The distribution of melanocytes in the AV valves corresponds exactly to areas of high Versican B expression, a proteoglycan essential for the process of AV valve remodeling. To evaluate a potential role for melanocytes in the AV valves, a nanoindentation analysis of the tricuspid valves of wild type, hypopigmented and hyperpigmented mice was performed. The storage modulus, a measure of stiffuess, for the leaflets obtained from hyperpigmented mice was considerably higher (10.5GPa) than that for the leaflets from wild type (7.5GPa) and hypopigmented animals (between 3.5 and 5.5 GPa) suggesting that melanocytes may contribute to the mechanical properties of the A V valves.




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