Human genetic studies identified a strong association between loss of function mutations in RBFOX2 and hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS). There are currently no Rbfox2 mouse models that recapitulate HLHS. Therefore, it is still unknown how RBFOX2 as an RNA binding protein contributes to heart development. To address this, we conditionally deleted Rbfox2 in embryonic mouse hearts and found profound defects in cardiac chamber and yolk sac vasculature formation. Importantly, our Rbfox2 conditional knockout mouse model recapitulated several molecular and phenotypic features of HLHS. To determine the molecular drivers of these cardiac defects, we performed RNA-sequencing in Rbfox2 mutant hearts and identified dysregulated alternative splicing (AS) networks that affect cell adhesion to extracellular matrix (ECM) mediated by Rho GTPases. We identified two Rho GTPase cycling genes as targets of RBFOX2. Modulating AS of these two genes using antisense oligos led to cell cycle and cell-ECM adhesion defects. Consistently, Rbfox2 mutant hearts displayed cell cycle defects and inability to undergo endocardial-mesenchymal transition, processes dependent on cell-ECM adhesion and that are seen in HLHS. Overall, our work not only revealed that loss of Rbfox2 leads to heart development defects resembling HLHS, but also identified RBFOX2-regulated AS networks that influence cell-ECM communication vital for heart development.
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