Heart valves have long been considered exclusively passive structures that open and close in response to changes in transvalvular pressure during the cardiac cycle. Although this is partly true, recent evidence suggests that valves are far more sophisticated structures. Microscopic examination of heart valves reveals a complex network of endothelial cells, interstitial cells, an extracellular matrix and a rich network of intrinsic nerves. The distribution of these nerve networks varies between the four valves, but is remarkably conserved between species. The present review will focus mainly on aortic valve innervation for several reasons: it is most commonly involved in disease processes, it lies in a unique hemodynamic environment and is exposed to extreme mechanical forces. These nerves are likely to play a significant role in the modulation of aortic valve structure and function and its adaptation to different hemodynamic and humoral conditions. The objectives of this review are first to describe the anatomy of aortic valve innervation, then detail the functional significance of innervation to the valve and finally make the case for the clinical relevance of understanding the neural control of aortic valves and its potential pharmacologic implications.
Keywords: Aortic valve, nerves, mechanical properties, calcification
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