The Role of Shox2 in SAN Development and Function
Embryonic development is a tightly regulated process, and many families of genes functions to provide a regulatory genetic network to achieve such a program. The homeobox genes are an extensive family that encodes transcription factors with a characteristic 60-amino acid homeodomain. Mutations in these genes or in the encoded proteins might result in structural malformations, physiological defects, and even embryonic death. Mutations in the short-stature homeobox gene (SHOX) is associated with idiopathic short stature in humans, as observed in patients with Turner syndrome and/or Leri-Weill dyschondrosteosis. A closely related human homolog, SHOX2, has not been linked to any syndrome or defect so far. In mice, a SHOX ortholog gene is not present in the genome; however, a true SHOX2 ortholog has been identified. Analyses of Shox2 knockout mouse models have showed crucial functions during embryonic development, including limb skeletogenesis, palatogenesis, temporomandibular joint formation, and cardiovascular development. During embryonic cardiac development, Shox2 is restrictedly expressed in the sinus venosus region, including the sinoatrial node (SAN) and the sinus valves. Shox2 null mutant is embryonically lethal due to cardiovascular defects, including a severely hypoplastic SAN and sinus valves attributed to a significantly decreased level of cell proliferation in addition to an abnormal low heartbeat rate (bradycardia). In addition, it has been demonstrated that Shox2 regulates a genetic network through the repression of Nkx2.5 to maintain the SAN fate and thus plays essential roles in its proper formation and differentiation.
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