The mature heart is composed primarily of four different cell types: cardiac myocytes, endothelium, smooth muscle, and fibroblasts. These cell types derive from pluripotent progenitors that become progressively restricted with regard to lineage potential, giving rise to multipotent cardiac progenitor cells and, ultimately, the differentiated cell types of the heart. Recent studies have begun to shed light on the defining characteristics of the intermediary cell types that exist transiently during this developmental process and the extrinsic and cell-autonomous factors that influence cardiac lineage decisions and cellular competence. This information will shape our understanding of congenital and adult cardiac disease and guide regenerative therapeutic approaches. In addition, cardiac progenitor specification can serve as a model for understanding basic mechanisms regulating the acquisition of cellular identity. In this review, we present the concept of "chromatin competence" that describes the potential for three-dimensional chromatin organization to function as the molecular underpinning of the ability of a progenitor cell to respond to inductive lineage cues and summarize recent studies advancing our understanding of cardiac cell specification, gene regulation, and chromatin organization and how they impact cardiac development.
Keywords: cardiac progenitor cells; gene regulation; lineage restriction; nuclear architecture.
© 2018 Jain and Epstein; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.