Single-Cell Transcriptomics Reveals Chemotaxis-Mediated Intraorgan Crosstalk During Cardiogenesis

Circ Res. 2019 Aug 2;125(4):398-410. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.119.315243. Epub 2019 Jun 21.


Rationale: We hypothesized that the differentiation processes of cardiac progenitor cell (CP) from first and second heart fields (FHF and SHF) may undergo the unique instructive gene regulatory networks or signaling pathways, and the precise SHF progression is contingent on the FHF signaling developmental cues.

Objective: We investigated how the intraorgan communications control sequential building of discrete anatomic regions of the heart at single-cell resolution.

Methods and results: By single-cell transcriptomic analysis of Nkx2-5 (NK2 homeobox 5) and Isl1 (ISL LIM homeobox 1) lineages at embryonic day 7.75, embryonic day 8.25, embryonic day 8.75, and embryonic day 9.25, we present a panoramic view of distinct CP differentiation hierarchies. Computational identifications of FHF- and SHF-CP descendants revealed that SHF differentiation toward cardiomyocytes underwent numerous step-like transitions, whereas earlier FHF progressed toward cardiomyocytes in a wave-like manner. Importantly, single-cell pairing analysis demonstrated that SHF-CPs were attracted to and expanded FHF-populated heart tube region through interlineage communications mediated by the chemotactic guidance (MIF [macrophage migration inhibitory factor]-CXCR2 [C-X-C motif chemokine receptor 2]). This finding was verified by pharmacological blockade of this chemotaxis in embryos manifesting limited SHF cell migration and contribution to the growth of the outflow tract and right ventricle but undetectable effects on the left ventricle or heart tube initiation. Genetic loss-of-function assay of Cxcr2 showed that the expression domain of CXCR4 was expanded predominantly at SHF. Furthermore, double knockout of Cxcr2/Cxcr4 exhibited defective SHF development, corroborating the redundant function. Mechanistically, NKX2-5 directly bound the Cxcr2 and Cxcr4 genomic loci and activated their transcription in SHF.

Conclusions: Collectively, we propose a model in which the chemotaxis-mediated intraorgan crosstalk spatiotemporally guides the successive process of positioning SHF-CP and promoting primary heart expansion and patterning upon FHF-derived heart tube initiation.

Keywords: cardiogenesis; cell lineage; chemotaxis; heart; interlineage communications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Lineage
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chemotaxis*
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Heart / embryology*
  • Homeobox Protein Nkx-2.5 / genetics
  • Homeobox Protein Nkx-2.5 / metabolism*
  • LIM-Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • LIM-Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / cytology
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism
  • Receptors, Interleukin-8B / genetics
  • Receptors, Interleukin-8B / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcriptome*


  • Homeobox Protein Nkx-2.5
  • LIM-Homeodomain Proteins
  • Receptors, Interleukin-8B
  • Transcription Factors
  • insulin gene enhancer binding protein Isl-1