Vitamin A is essential for normal embryonic cardiogenesis. The vitamin A-deficient phenotype in the avian embryo includes an abnormal heart tube closed at the sinus venosus and the absence of large vessels that normally connect the embryonic heart to the developing circulatory system. In vitamin A-deficient embryos the expression of cardiomyocyte differentiation genes, including atrial-specific myosin heavy chain, ventricular-specific myosin, and sarcomeric myosins as well as the putative cardiomyocyte specification gene Nkx-2.5, is not altered. However, the expression of transcription factor GATA-4 is severely decreased in the heart-forming regions of vitamin A-deficient stage 7-10 embryos. Significantly, GATA-4 transcripts are completely lacking in the lateral mesoderm posterior to the heart, in the area of the developing cardiac inflow tract that later displays prominent morphological defects, including a closed nonseptated heart lacking a sinus venosus. The administration of retinol to the vitamin A-deficient embryo restores GATA-4 expression and completely rescues the vitamin A-deficient phenotype. Our results indicate that GATA-4 is a component of the retinoid-mediated cardiogenic pathway unlinked to cardiomyocyte differentiation, but involved in the morphogenesis of the posterior heart tube and the development of the cardiac inflow tract.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.