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Circ Res. 2010 Sep 17;107(6):776-86. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.110.223917. Epub 2010 Jul 29.

Neuregulin/ErbB signaling regulates cardiac subtype specification in differentiating human embryonic stem cells.

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Center for Cardiovascular Biology, Department of Pathology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98109, USA.



Human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes (hESC-CMs) exhibit either a "working" chamber or a nodal-like phenotype. To generate optimal hESC-CM preparations for eventual clinical application in cell-based therapies, we will need to control their differentiation into these specialized cardiac subtypes.


To demonstrate intact neuregulin (NRG)-1β/ErbB signaling in hESC-CMs and test the hypothesis that this signaling pathway regulates cardiac subtype abundance in hESC-CM cultures.


All experiments used hESC-CM cultures generated using our recently reported directed differentiation protocol. To support subsequent action potential phenotyping approaches and provide a higher-throughput method of determining cardiac subtype, we first developed and validated a novel genetic label that identifies nodal-type hESC-CMs. Next, control hESC-CM preparations were compared to those differentiated in the presence of exogenous NRG-1β, an anti-NRG-1β neutralizing antibody, or the ErbB antagonist AG1478. We used 3 independent approaches to determine the ratio of cardiac subtypes in the resultant populations: direct action potential phenotyping under current-clamp, activation of the aforementioned genetic label, and subtype-specific marker expression by RT-PCR. Using all 3 end points, we found that inhibition of NRG-1β/ErbB signaling greatly enhanced the proportion of cells showing the nodal phenotype.


NRG-1β/ErbB signaling regulates the ratio of nodal- to working-type cells in differentiating hESC-CM cultures and presumably functions similarly during early human heart development. We speculate that, by manipulating NRG-1β/ErbB signaling, it will be possible to generate preparations of enriched working-type myocytes for infarct repair, or, conversely, nodal cells for potential use in a biological pacemaker.

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