N-cadherin prevents the premature differentiation of anterior heart field progenitors in the pharyngeal mesodermal microenvironment

Cell Res. 2014 Dec;24(12):1420-32. doi: 10.1038/cr.2014.142. Epub 2014 Nov 4.


The cardiac progenitor cells (CPCs) in the anterior heart field (AHF) are located in the pharyngeal mesoderm (PM), where they expand, migrate and eventually differentiate into major cell types found in the heart, including cardiomyocytes. The mechanisms by which these progenitors are able to expand within the PM microenvironment without premature differentiation remain largely unknown. Through in silico data mining, genetic loss-of-function studies, and in vivo genetic rescue studies, we identified N-cadherin and interaction with canonical Wnt signals as a critical component of the microenvironment that facilitates the expansion of AHF-CPCs in the PM. CPCs in N-cadherin mutant embryos were observed to be less proliferative and undergo premature differentiation in the PM. Notably, the phenotype of N-cadherin deficiency could be partially rescued by activating Wnt signaling, suggesting a delicate functional interaction between the adhesion role of N-cadherin and Wnt signaling in the early PM microenvironment. This study suggests a new mechanism for the early renewal of AHF progenitors where N-cadherin provides additional adhesion for progenitor cells in the PM, thereby allowing Wnt paracrine signals to expand the cells without premature differentiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cadherins / genetics
  • Cadherins / metabolism*
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Gene Deletion
  • Heart / embryology*
  • Male
  • Mesoderm / cytology*
  • Mesoderm / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / cytology*
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway


  • Cadherins