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Stem Cells Dev. 2010 Oct;19(10):1601-15. doi: 10.1089/scd.2009.0483.

Islet-1 cells are cardiac progenitors present during the entire lifespan: from the embryonic stage to adulthood.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Karolinska Institutet, Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.


The aim of this study was to longitudinally characterize the distribution of cells actively expressing the progenitor transcription factor islet-1 (Isl1+) during the embryonic life, the postnatal period, and adulthood. In this study, we have used direct immunohistochemical staining toward the protein Isl1 in a longitudinal rat model. Cells actively expressing Isl1 were traced in embryos from gestational day (GD) 11 until adulthood. In early cardiac development (GD 11), the Isl1+ progenitors were located in a greater abundance in the paracardiac regions, areas suggested to be the second heart field. To a lesser extent, Isl1+ cells were present within the bulbotruncal region and the truncus arteriosus. During the following days until GD 15, the Isl1+ cells were mainly observed at the proximal outflow tract (OFT) and at the inflow area of the right atrium. No Isl1+ cells were detected in the left ventricle. Compared with GD 11, more Isl1+ cells seemed to co-express cardiomyocyte markers and a minority of the Isl1+ cells was undifferentiated. Unexpectedly, only few undifferentiated Isl1+ cells were Ki67+ while a lot of TnT+ cardiomyocytes were proliferating in the ventricles. After birth, immature Isl1+ cells were still present in the OFT where they resided until adulthood. Our data suggest that during embryogenesis, Isl1+ cells migrate from extracardiac regions into the proximal part of the heart, proliferating and giving rise to cardioblasts. Unexpectedly, only a minority of the Isl1+ cells while a majority of ventricular cardiomyocytes were proliferating. The Isl1+ cell pool persists into adulthood, which might open up new strategies to repair damaged myocardium.

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