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Dev Biol. 2005 Feb 15;278(2):459-72.

The Drosophila melanogaster T-box genes midline and H15 are conserved regulators of heart development.

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Genes and Development Research Group, University of Calgary, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary Alberta, Canada T2N 4N1.


The Drosophila melanogaster genes midline and H15 encode predicted T-box transcription factors homologous to vertebrate Tbx20 genes. All identified vertebrate Tbx20 genes are expressed in the embryonic heart and we find that both midline and H15 are expressed in the cardioblasts of the dorsal vessel, the insect organ equivalent to the vertebrate heart. The midline mRNA is first detected in dorsal mesoderm at embryonic stage 12 in the two progenitors per hemisegment that will divide to give rise to all six cardioblasts. Expression of H15 mRNA in the dorsal mesoderm is detected first in four to six cells per hemisegment at stage 13. The expression of midline and H15 in the dorsal vessel is dependent on Wingless signaling and the transcription factors tinman and pannier. We find that the selection of two midline-expressing cells from a pool of competent progenitors is dependent on Notch signaling. Embryos deleted for both midline and H15 have defects in the alignment of the cardioblasts and associated pericardial cells. Embryos null for midline have weaker and less penetrant phenotypes while embryos deficient for H15 have morphologically normal hearts, suggesting that the two genes are partially redundant in heart development. Despite the dorsal vessel defects, embryos mutant for both midline and H15 have normal numbers of cardioblasts, suggesting that cardiac cell fate specification is not disrupted. However, ectopic expression of midline in the dorsal mesoderm can lead to dramatic increases in the expression of cardiac markers, suggesting that midline and H15 participate in cardiac fate specification and may normally act redundantly with other cardiogenic factors. Conservation of Tbx20 expression and function in cardiac development lends further support for a common ancestral origin of the insect dorsal vessel and the vertebrate heart.

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