Role of notch signaling during endothelial to mesenchymal transformation

During heart development a subset of cells that line the inside of the heart, called endocardial cells, undergo a transformation termed endothelial-to-mesenchymal transformation (EMT). This transformation is critical for normal development as it generates the cells that form the walls which divide the adult heart into chambers and the heart valves which regulate blood flow. It has been shown that Notch proteins (signaling molecules highly localized within the endocardial cells of the developing heart) play an important role in EMT as the activation of Notch signaling induces the EMT process. In about 1% of newborns, anomalies in this process are associated with congenital heart defects. Kyle Niessen is investigating a key transcription protein, called Slug, shown to be involved in the initiation of EMT. The Slug protein binds to DNA and affects the cellular composition of a cell. Kyle is examining the importance and the role of Slug during EMT and from this hopes to define the key regulatory steps required for heart development. Kyle’s research will contribute to a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of normal heart development, and provide insights into correcting and preventing congenital heart defects.