Ouabain-induced inhibition of early heart development indicated that Na/K-ATPase plays an important role in maintaining normal ionic balances during differentiation of cardiomyocytes (Linask and Gui  Dev Dyn 203:93-105). Inhibition of the sodium pump is generally accepted to affect the activity of the Na(+)-Ca(++) exchanger (NCX) to increase intracellular [Ca(++)]. These previous findings suggested that Ca(++) signaling may be an important modulator during differentiation of cardiomyocytes. In order to identify a connection between heart development and NCX-mediated Ca(++) regulation, we determined the embryonic spatiotemporal protein expression pattern of NCX-1 during early developmental stages. In both chick and mouse embryos, NCX-1 (the cardiac NCX isoform) is asymmetrically expressed during gastrulation; in the right side of the Hensen's node in the chick, in the right lateral mesoderm in the mouse. At slightly later stages, NCX-1 is expressed in the heart fields at comparable stages of heart development, in the chick at stage 7 and in the mouse at embryonic day (ED) 7.5. By ED 8 in the mouse, the exchanger protein displays a rostrocaudal difference in cardiac expression and an outer curvature-inner curvature ventricular difference. By ED 9.5, cardiac expression has increased from that seen at ED8 and NCX-1 is distributed throughout the myocardium consistent with the possibility that it is important in regulating initial cardiac contractile function. Only a low level of expression is detected in inflow and outflow regions. To substantiate a role for the involvement of calcium-mediated signaling, using pharmacologic approaches, ionomycin (a Ca(++) ionophore) was shown to perturb cardiac cell differentiation in a manner similar to ouabain as assayed by cNkx2.5 and sarcomeric myosin heavy chain expression. In addition, we show that an inhibitor of NCX, KB-R7943, can similarly and adversely affect early cardiac development at stage 4/5 and arrests cardiac cell contractility in 12-somite embryos. Thus, based upon NCX-1 protein expression patterns in the embryo, experimental Ca(++) modulation, and inhibition of NCX activity by KB-R7943, these results suggest an early and central role for calcium-mediated signaling in cardiac cell differentiation and NCX's regulation of the initial heartbeats in the embryo.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.