T-box transcription factors are critical regulators of early embryonic development. We have characterized a novel zebrafish T-box transcription factor, hrT (H15-related T box) that is a close relative of Drosophila H15 and a recently identified human gene. We show that Drosophila H15 and zebrafish hrT are both expressed early during heart formation, in strong support of previous work postulating that vertebrate and arthropod hearts are homologous structures with conserved regulatory mechanisms. The timing and regulation of zebrafish hrT expression in anterior lateral plate mesoderm suggest a very early role for hrT in the differentiation of the cardiac precursors. hrT is coexpressed with gata4 and nkx2.5 not only in anterior lateral plate mesoderm but also in noncardiac mesoderm adjacent to the tail bud, suggesting that a conserved regulatory pathway links expression of these three genes in cardiac and noncardiac tissues. Finally, we analyzed hrT expression in pandora mutant embryos, since these have defects in many of the tissues that express hrT, including the heart. hrT expression is much reduced in the early heart fields of pandora mutants, whereas it is ectopically expressed subsequently. Using hrT expression as a marker, we describe a midline patterning defect in pandora affecting the anterior hindbrain and associated midline mesendodermal derivatives. We discuss the possibility that the cardiac ventricular defect previously described in pandora and the midline defects described here are related.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.