CTCF counter-regulates cardiomyocyte development and maturation programs in the embryonic heart

PLoS Genet. 2017 Aug 28;13(8):e1006985. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1006985. eCollection 2017 Aug.


Cardiac progenitors are specified early in development and progressively differentiate and mature into fully functional cardiomyocytes. This process is controlled by an extensively studied transcriptional program. However, the regulatory events coordinating the progression of such program from development to maturation are largely unknown. Here, we show that the genome organizer CTCF is essential for cardiogenesis and that it mediates genomic interactions to coordinate cardiomyocyte differentiation and maturation in the developing heart. Inactivation of Ctcf in cardiac progenitor cells and their derivatives in vivo during development caused severe cardiac defects and death at embryonic day 12.5. Genome wide expression analysis in Ctcf mutant hearts revealed that genes controlling mitochondrial function and protein production, required for cardiomyocyte maturation, were upregulated. However, mitochondria from mutant cardiomyocytes do not mature properly. In contrast, multiple development regulatory genes near predicted heart enhancers, including genes in the IrxA cluster, were downregulated in Ctcf mutants, suggesting that CTCF promotes cardiomyocyte differentiation by facilitating enhancer-promoter interactions. Accordingly, loss of CTCF disrupts gene expression and chromatin interactions as shown by chromatin conformation capture followed by deep sequencing. Furthermore, CRISPR-mediated deletion of an intergenic CTCF site within the IrxA cluster alters gene expression in the developing heart. Thus, CTCF mediates local regulatory interactions to coordinate transcriptional programs controlling transitions in morphology and function during heart development.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CCCTC-Binding Factor
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Chromatin / genetics*
  • Embryonic Development / genetics*
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Heart / embryology
  • Heart / growth & development*
  • Heart Ventricles / embryology
  • Heart Ventricles / growth & development*
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Organogenesis / genetics
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Protein Binding
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics*
  • Transcriptional Activation / genetics


  • CCCTC-Binding Factor
  • Chromatin
  • Ctcf protein, mouse
  • Repressor Proteins

Grant support

This work was funded by the Spanish Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad (grants BFU2011-23083 and BFU2014-54608-P to MM, BFU2013-41322-P to JLGS and BFU2014-58449-JIN to JJT), the Comunidad Autónoma de Madrid (grant CELLDD-CM to MM), the Andalusian regional government (grant BIO-396 to JLGS), the Universidad Pablo de Olavide (postdoctoral grant to JJT). PDO is funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (G-17-0018613), Operational Funds from the Hospital for Sick Children, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) (500865 to PDO), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) (PJT-149046). The CNIC is supported by the Spanish Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad and the Pro-CNIC Foundation, and is a Severo Ochoa Center of Excellence (SEV-2015-0505). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.