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Dev Dyn. 2003 Mar;226(3):540-50.

Cardiac neural crest in zebrafish embryos contributes to myocardial cell lineage and early heart function.

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Neonatal-Perinatal Research Institute, Division of Neonatology, Department of Pediatrics, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27712, USA.


Myocardial dysfunction is evident within hours after ablation of the cardiac neural crest in chick embryos, suggesting a role for neural crest in myocardial maturation that is separate from its role in outflow septation. This role could be conserved in an animal that does not have a divided systemic and pulmonary circulation, such as zebrafish. To test this hypothesis, we used cell marking to identify the axial level of neural crest that migrates to the heart in zebrafish embryos. Unlike the chick and mouse, the zebrafish cardiac neural crest does not originate from the axial level of the somites. The region of neural crest cranial to somite 1 was found to contribute cells to the heart. Cells from the cardiac neural crest migrated to the myocardial wall of the heart tube, where some of them expressed a myocardial phenotype. Laser ablation of the cardiac premigratory neural crest at the three- to four-somite stage resulted in loss of the neural crest cells migrating to the heart as shown by the absence of AP2- and HNK1-expressing cells and failure of the heart tube to undergo looping. Myocardial function was assessed 24 hr after the cardiac neural crest ablation in a subpopulation of embryos with normal heart rate. Decreased stroke volume, ejection fraction, and cardiac output were observed, indicating a more severe functional deficit in cardiac neural crest-ablated zebrafish embryos compared with neural crest-ablated chick embryos. These results suggest a new role for cardiac neural crest cells in vertebrate cardiac development and are the first report of a myocardial cell lineage for neural crest derivatives.

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