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Dev Biol. 2006 May 15;293(2):305-15. Epub 2006 Mar 24.

Wnt signal transduction and the formation of the myocardium.

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Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC 29425, USA.


Soon after fertilization, vertebrate embryos grow very rapidly. Thus, early in gestation, a sizeable yet underdeveloped organism requires circulating blood. This need dictates the early appearance of a contractile heart, which is the first functional organ in both the avian and mammalian embryo. The heart arises from paired mesodermal regions within the anterior half of the embryo. As development proceeds, these bilateral precardiac fields merge at the midline to give rise to the primary heart tube. How specific areas of nondifferentiated mesoderm organize into myocardial tissue has been a question that has long intrigued developmental biologists. In recent years, the regulation of Wnt signal transduction has been implicated as an important event that initiates cardiac development. While initial reports in Drosophila and the bird had implicated Wnt proteins as promoters of cardiac tissue formation, subsequent findings that the WNT inhibitors Dkk1 and crescent possess cardiac-inducing activities led to the contrary hypothesis that WNTs actively inhibit cardiogenesis. This seeming contradiction has been resolved, in part, by more recent information indicating that Wnts stimulate multiple signal transduction pathways. In this review, we will examine what is presently known about the importance of regulated Wnt activity for the formation of the heart and the development of the myocardium and discuss this information in context of the emerging complexity of Wnt signal transduction.

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