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Dev Biol. 2006 Mar 1;291(1):96-109. Epub 2006 Jan 19.

Retinoic acid signaling is essential for formation of the heart tube in Xenopus.

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  • 1Childrens Health Research Institute, 800 Commissioners Rd. E. London, Ontario, Canada N6C 2V5.


Retinoic acid is clearly important for the development of the heart. In this paper, we provide evidence that retinoic acid is essential for multiple aspects of cardiogenesis in Xenopus by examining embryos that have been exposed to retinoic acid receptor antagonists. Early in cardiogenesis, retinoic acid alters the expression of key genes in the lateral plate mesoderm including Nkx2.5 and HAND1, indicating that early patterning of the lateral plate mesoderm is, in part, controlled by retinoic acid. We found that, in Xenopus, the transition of the heart from a sheet of cells to a tube required retinoic acid signaling. The requirement for retinoic acid signaling was determined to take place during a narrow window of time between embryonic stages 14 and 18, well before heart tube closure. At the highest doses used, the lateral fields of myocardium fail to fuse, intermediate doses lead to a fusion of the two sides but failure to form a tube, and embryos exposed to lower concentrations of antagonist form a heart tube that failed to complete all the landmark changes that characterize looping. The myocardial phenotypes observed when exposed to the retinoic acid antagonist resemble the myocardium from earlier stages of cardiogenesis, although precocious expression of cardiac differentiation markers was not seen. The morphology of individual cells within the myocardium appeared immature, closely resembling the shape and size of cells at earlier stages of development. However, the failures in morphogenesis are not merely a slowing of development because, even when allowed to develop through stage 40, the heart tubes did not close when embryos were exposed to high levels of antagonist. Indeed, some aspects of left-right asymmetry also remained even in hearts that never formed a tube. These results demonstrate that components of the retinoic acid signaling pathway are necessary for the progression of cardiac morphogenesis in Xenopus.

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