Divergent early mesoderm specification underlies distinct head and trunk muscle programmes in vertebrates

Development. 2018 Sep 20;145(18):dev160945. doi: 10.1242/dev.160945.


Head and trunk muscles have discrete embryological origins and are governed by distinct regulatory programmes. Whereas the developmental route of trunk muscles from mesoderm is well studied, that of head muscles is ill defined. Here, we show that, unlike the myogenic trunk paraxial mesoderm, head mesoderm development is independent of the T/Tbx6 network in mouse. We reveal that, in contrast to Wnt and FGF-driven trunk mesoderm, dual inhibition of Wnt/β-catenin and Nodal specifies head mesoderm. Remarkably, the progenitors derived from embryonic stem cells by dual inhibition efficiently differentiate into cardiac and skeletal muscle cells. This twin potential is the defining feature of cardiopharyngeal mesoderm: the head subtype giving rise to heart and branchiomeric head muscles. Therefore, our findings provide compelling evidence that dual inhibition specifies head mesoderm and unravel the mechanism that diversifies head and trunk muscle programmes during early mesoderm fate commitment. Significantly, this is the first report of directed differentiation of pluripotent stem cells, without transgenes, into progenitors with muscle/heart dual potential. Ability to generate branchiomeric muscle in vitro could catalyse efforts in modelling myopathies that selectively involve head muscles.

Keywords: Cardiopharyngeal mesoderm; Cranial mesoderm; Head muscles; Skeletal muscle differentiation; Tbx6; Wnt inhibition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Head / embryology*
  • Mesoderm / embryology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred DBA
  • Muscle, Skeletal / cytology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / embryology*
  • Nodal Protein / metabolism
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology*
  • T-Box Domain Proteins
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Wnt Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Wnt Proteins / metabolism
  • beta Catenin / metabolism


  • Nodal Protein
  • Nodal protein, mouse
  • T-Box Domain Proteins
  • Tbx6 protein, mouse
  • Transcription Factors
  • Wnt Proteins
  • beta Catenin