As classically described, the precardiac mesoderm of the paired heart-forming fields migrate and fuse anteriomedially in the ventral midline to form the first segment of the straight heart tube. This segment ultimately forms the right trabeculated ventricle. Additional segments are added to the caudal end of the first in a sequential fashion from the posteriolateral heart-forming field mesoderm. In this study we report that the final major heart segment, which forms the cardiac outflow tract, does not follow this pattern of embryonic development. The cardiac outlet, consisting of the conus and truncus, does not derive from the paired heart-forming fields, but originates separately from a previously unrecognized source of mesoderm located anterior to the initial primitive heart tube segment. Fate-mapping results show that cells labeled in the mesoderm surrounding the aortic sac and anterior to the primitive right ventricle are incorporated into both the conus and the truncus. Conversely, if cells are labeled in the existing right ventricle no incorporation into the cardiac outlet is observed. Tissue explants microdissected from this anterior mesoderm region are capable of forming beating cardiac muscle in vitro when cocultured with explants of the primitive right ventricle. These findings establish the presence of another heart-forming field. This anterior heart-forming field (AHF) consists of mesoderm surrounding the aortic sac immediately anterior to the existing heart tube. This new concept of the heart outlet's embryonic origin provides a new basis for explaining a variety of gene-expression patterns and cardiac defects described in both transgenic animals and human congenital heart disease.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.