Heart development: molecular insights into cardiac specification and early morphogenesis

Dev Biol. 2003 Jun 1;258(1):1-19. doi: 10.1016/s0012-1606(03)00112-x.


The heart develops from two bilateral heart fields that are formed during early gastrulation. In recent years, signaling pathways that specify cardiac mesoderm have been extensively analyzed. In addition, a battery of transcription factors that regulate different aspects of cardiac morphogenesis and cytodifferentiation have been identified and characterized in model organisms. At the anterior pole, a secondary heart field is formed, which in its molecular make-up, appears to be similar to the primary heart field. The cardiac outflow tract and the right ventricle to a large extent are derivatives of this anterior heart field. Cardiac mesoderm receives positional information by which it is patterned along the three body axes. The molecular control of left-right axis development has received particular attention, and the underlying regulatory network begins to emerge. Cardiac chamber development involves the activation of a transcription program that is different from the one present in the primary heart field and regulates cardiac morphogenesis in a region-specific manner. This review also attempts to identify areas in which additional research is needed to fully understand early cardiac development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning*
  • Cell Movement
  • Forecasting
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Heart / embryology*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Myocardium / metabolism
  • Myocardium / ultrastructure
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcription Factors / genetics


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Transcription Factors