Genome-wide CRISPR screen identifies ZIC2 as an essential gene that controls the cell fate of early mesodermal precursors to human heart progenitors

Stem Cells. 2020 Jun;38(6):741-755. doi: 10.1002/stem.3168. Epub 2020 Mar 10.


Cardiac progenitor formation is one of the earliest committed steps of human cardiogenesis and requires the cooperation of multiple gene sets governed by developmental signaling cascades. To determine the key regulators for cardiac progenitor formation, we have developed a two-stage genome-wide CRISPR-knockout screen. We mimicked the progenitor formation process by differentiating human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) into cardiomyocytes, monitored by two distinct stage markers of early cardiac mesodermal formation and commitment to a multipotent heart progenitor cell fate: MESP1 and ISL1, respectively. From the screen output, we compiled a list of 15 candidate genes. After validating seven of them, we identified ZIC2 as an essential gene for cardiac progenitor formation. ZIC2 is known as a master regulator of neurogenesis. hPSCs with ZIC2 mutated still express pluripotency markers. However, their ability to differentiate into cardiomyocytes was greatly attenuated. RNA-Seq profiling of the ZIC2-mutant cells revealed that the mutants switched their cell fate alternatively to the noncardiac cell lineage. Further, single cell RNA-seq analysis showed the ZIC2 mutants affected the apelin receptor-related signaling pathway during mesoderm formation. Our results provide a new link between ZIC2 and human cardiogenesis and document the potential power of a genome-wide unbiased CRISPR-knockout screen to identify the key steps in human mesoderm precursor cell- and heart progenitor cell-fate determination during in vitro hPSC cardiogenesis.

Keywords: CRISPR; differentiation; human embryonic stem cells; mesoderm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats / genetics*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Genome-Wide Association Study / methods*
  • Heart / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Mesoderm / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • ZIC2 protein, human