The anterior heart field (AHF), which contributes to the outflow tract and right ventricle of the heart, is defined in part by expression of the LIM homeobox transcription factor Isl-1. The importance of Isl-1–positive cells in cardiac development and homeostasis is underscored by the finding that these cells are required for cardiac development and act as cardiac stem/progenitor cells within the postnatal heart. However, the molecular pathways regulating these cells’ expansion and differentiation are poorly understood. We show that Isl-1–positive AHF progenitor cells in mice were responsive to Wnt/β-catenin signaling, and these responsive cells contributed to the outflow tract and right ventricle of the heart. Loss of Wnt/β-catenin signaling in the AHF caused defective outflow tract and right ventricular development with a decrease in Isl-1–positive progenitors and loss of FGF signaling. Conversely, Wnt gain of function in these cells led to expansion of Isl-1–positive progenitors with a concomitant increase in FGF signaling through activation of a specific set of FGF ligands including FGF3, FGF10, FGF16, and FGF20. These data reveal what we believe to be a novel Wnt-FGF signaling axis required for expansion of Isl-1–positive AHF progenitors and suggest future therapies to increase the number and function of these cells for cardiac regeneration.
Ethan David Cohen, Zhishan Wang, John J. Lepore, Min Min Lu, Makoto M. Taketo, Douglas J. Epstein, Edward E. Morrisey