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Development. 1999 Aug;126(15):3437-47.

MesP1 is expressed in the heart precursor cells and required for the formation of a single heart tube.

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  • 1Cellular and Molecular Toxicology Division, National Institute of Health Sciences, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 158, Japan.


The Mesp1 gene encodes the basic HLH protein MesP1 which is expressed in the mesodermal cell lineage during early gastrulation. Disruption of the Mesp1 gene leads to aberrant heart morphogenesis, resulting in cardia bifida. In order to study the defects in Mesp1-expressing cells during gastrulation and in the specification of mesodermal cell lineages, we introduced a (beta)-galactosidase gene (lacZ) under the control of the Mesp1 promoter by homologous recombination. The early expression pattern revealed by (beta)-gal staining in heterozygous embryos was almost identical to that observed by whole mount in situ hybridization. However, the (beta)-gal activity was retained longer than the mRNA signal, which enabled us to follow cell migration during gastrulation. In heterozygous embryos, the Mesp1-expressing cells migrated out from the primitive streak and were incorporated into the head mesenchyme and heart field. In contrast, Mesp1-expressing cells in the homozygous deficient embryos stayed in the primitive streak for a longer period of time before departure. The expression of FLK-1, an early marker of endothelial cell precursors including heart precursors, also accumulated abnormally in the posterior region in Mesp1-deficient embryos. In addition, using the Cre-loxP site-specific recombination system, we could determine the lineage of the Mesp1-expressing cells. The first mesodermal cells that ingressed through the primitive streak were incorporated as the mesodermal component of the amnion, and the next mesodermal population mainly contributed to the myocardium of the heart tube but not to the endocardium. These results strongly suggest that MesP1 is expressed in the heart tube precursor cells and is required for mesodermal cells to depart from the primitive streak and to generate a single heart tube.

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