G-protein receptor kinases (GRKs) regulate adult hearts by modulating inotropic, chronotropic and hypertrophic signaling of 7-transmembrane spanning neurohormone receptors. GRK-mediated desensitization and downregulation of β-adrenergic receptors has been implicated in adult heart failure; GRKs are therefore a promising therapeutic target. However, germ-line (but not cardiomyocyte-specific) GRK2 deletion provoked lethal fetal heart defects, suggesting an unexplained role for GRKs in heart development. Here we undertook to better understand the consequences of GRK deficiency on fetal heart development by creating mice and cultured murine embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) having floxed GRK2 and GRK5 alleles on the GRK6 null background; simultaneous conditional deletion of these 3 GRK genes was achieved using Nkx2–5 Cre or adenoviral Cre, respectively. Phenotypes were related to GRK-modulated gene expression using whole-transcriptome RNA sequencing, RT-qPCR, and luciferase reporter assays. In cultured MEFs the atypical 7-transmembrane spanning protein and GRK2 substrate Smoothened (Smo) stimulated Gli-mediated transcriptional activity, which was interrupted by deleting GRK2/5/6. Mice with Nkx2–5 Cre mediated GRK2/5/6 ablation died between E15.5 and E16.5, whereas mice expressing any one of these 3 GRKs (i.e. GRK2/5, GRK2/6 or GRK5/6 deleted) were developmentally normal. GRK2/5/6 triple null mice at E14.5 exhibited left and right heart blood intermixing through single atrioventricular valves or large membranous ventricular septal defects. Hedgehog and GATA pathway gene expression promoted by Smo/Gli was suppressed in GRK2/5/6 deficient fetal hearts and MEFs. These data indicate that GRK2, GRK5 and GRK6 redundantly modulate Smo-GATA crosstalk in fetal mouse hearts, orchestrating transcriptional pathways previously linked to clinical and experimental atrioventricular canal defects. GRK modulation of Smo reflects convergence of conventional neurohormonal signaling and transcriptional regulation pathways, comprising an unanticipated mechanism for spatiotemporal orchestration of developmental gene expression in the heart.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-68
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology
StatePublished - Aug 2018


  • Atrio-ventricular septal defect
  • G-protein coupled receptor kinase
  • GATA
  • Heart development
  • Smoothened


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