In mouse, atrial natriuretic factor (ANF) gene expression was shown to be a marker for chamber formation within the embryonic heart. To gain insight into the process of chamber formation in the chicken embryonic heart, we analyzed the expression pattern of cANF during development. We found cANF to be specifically expressed in the myocardium of the morphologically distinguishable atrial and ventricular chambers, similar to ANF in mouse. cANF expression was never detected in the myocardium of the atrioventricular canal (AVC), inner curvature, and outflow tract (OFT), which is lined by endocardial cushions. Expression was strictly excluded from the interventricular myocardium and most proximal part of the bundle branches, as identified by the expression of Msx-2, whereas the rest of the bundle branches, trabeculae, and surrounding working myocardium did express cANF. The myocardium that forms de novo within the cushions after looping did not express cANF. At HH9 cANF expression was first observed in a subset of cardiomyocytes, which was localized ventrally in the fused heart tube and laterally in the unfused cardiac sheets. Together, these results show that cANF expression can be used to distinguish differentiated chamber (working) myocardium, including the peripheral ventricular conduction system, from embryonic myocardium. We conclude that differentiation of chamber myocardium takes place already at HH9 at the ventral side of the linear heart tube, possibly preceded by latero-medial signals in the unfused cardiac sheets.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.