Endothelin-converting enzyme-1 and -2 (ECE-1 and -2) are membrane-bound metalloproteases that can cleave biologically the inactive endothelin-1 (ET-1) precursor to form active ET-1 in vitro. We previously reported developmental defects in specific subsets of neural crest–derived tissues, including branchial arch–derived craniofacial structures, aortic arch arteries, and the cardiac outflow tract in ECE-1 knockout mice. To examine the role of ECE-2 in cardiovascular development, we have now generated a null mutation in ECE-2 by homologous recombination. ECE-2 null mice develop normally, are healthy into adulthood, are fertile in both sexes, and live a normal life span. However, when they are bred into an ECE-1–null background, defects in cardiac outflow structures become more severe than those in ECE-1 single knockout embryos. In addition, ECE-1–/–; ECE-2–/– double null embryos exhibited abnormal atrioventricular valve formation, a phenotype never seen in ECE-1 single knockout embryos. In the developing mouse heart, ECE-2 mRNA is expressed in the endocardial cushion mesenchyme from embyronic day (E) 12.5, in contrast to the endocardial expression of ECE-1. Levels of mature ET-1 and ET-2 in whole ECE-1–/–; ECE-2–/– embryos at E12.5 do not differ appreciably from those of ECE-1–/– embryos. The significant residual ET-1/ET-2 in the ECE-1–/–; ECE-2–/– embryos indicates that proteases distinct from ECE-1 and ECE-2 can carry out ET-1 activation in vivo.
Hiromi Yanagisawa, Robert E. Hammer, James A. Richardson, Noriaki Emoto, S. Clay Williams, Shin-ichi Takeda, David E. Clouthier, Masashi Yanagisawa