Members of both Wnt and bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) families of signaling molecules are important in heart development. We previously demonstrated that beta-catenin, a key downstream intermediary of the canonical Wnt signaling pathway, delineates the dorsal boundary of the cardiac compartments in an anteroposterior progression. We hypothesized the progression involves canonical Wnt signaling and reflects development of the primary body axis of the embryo. A similar anteroposterior signaling wave leading to cardiac cell specification involves inductive signaling by BMP-2 synthesized by the underlying endoderm in anterior bilateral regions. Any molecule that disrupts the normal balance of Wnt and BMP concentrations within the heart field may be expected to affect early heart development. The canonical Wnt signaling step mimicked by lithium involves inactivation of glycogen synthase kinase-3beta (GSK-3beta; Klein and Melton  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 93:8455-8459). We show that lithium, Wnt-3A, and an inhibitor of GSK-3beta, SB415286, affect early heart development at the cardiac specification stages. We demonstrate that normal expression patterns of key signaling molecules as Notch-1 and Dkk-1 are altered in the anterior mesoderm within the heart fields by a one-time exposure to lithium, or by noggin inhibition of BMP, at Hamburger and Hamilton (HH) stage 3 during chick embryonic development. The severity of developmental defects is greatest with exposure to lithium or Wnt-3A at HH stage 3 and decreases at HH stage 4. Taken together, our results demonstrate that there are temporal-specific responses and differential sensitivities to lithium/Wnt-3A exposure during early heart development.