Transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) regulates one of the major signaling pathways that control tissue morphogenesis. In vitro experiments using heart explants indicated the importance of this signaling pathway for the generation of cushion mesenchymal cells, which ultimately contribute to the valves and septa of the mature heart. Recent advances in mouse genetics have enabled in vivo investigation into the roles of individual ligands, receptors, and coreceptors of this pathway, including investigation of the tissue specificity of these roles in heart development. This work has revealed that (1) cushion mesenchyme can form in the absence of TGFβ signaling, although mesenchymal cell numbers may be misregulated; (2) TGFβ signaling is essential for correct remodeling of the cushions, particularly those of the outflow tract; (3) TGFβ signaling also has a role in ensuring accurate remodeling of the pharyngeal arch arteries to form the mature aortic arch; and (4) mesenchymal cells derived from the epicardium require TGFβ signaling to promote their differentiation to vascular smooth muscle cells to support the coronary arteries. In addition, a mouse genetics approach has also been used to investigate the disease pathogenesis of Loeys-Dietz syndrome, a familial autosomal dominant human disorder characterized by a dilated aortic root, and associated with mutations in the two TGFβ signaling receptor genes, TGFBR1 and TGFBR2. Further important insights are likely as this exciting work progresses. Birth Defects Research (Part A), 2011.© 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
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