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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Mar 6;104(10):3859-64. Epub 2007 Feb 28.

Sox17 is essential for the specification of cardiac mesoderm in embryonic stem cells.

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Center for Cardiovascular Development, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


Early steps for cardiac specification are problematic for the study of mammalian embryos, which has favored using pluripotent cells that recapitulate cardiac myogenesis. Furthermore, circuits governing cardiac specification have relevance to the application of ES cells and other cells for heart repair. In mouse teratocarcinoma cells, canonical Wnts that inhibit heart formation in avian or amphibian embryos and explants activate cardiogenesis, paradoxically. Here, we show that the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway also is essential for cardiac myogenesis to occur in ES cells, acting at a gastrulation-like stage, mediating mesoderm formation and patterning (two prerequisites for cardiac myogenesis itself). Among genes associated temporally with this step was Sox17, encoding an endodermal HMG-box transcription factor. Using lentiviral vectors for RNA interference in differentiating ES cells, an essential role for Sox17 was proven in cardiac muscle cell formation. Sox17 short-hairpin RNA suppresses cardiac myogenesis selectively, acting subsequent to mesoderm formation yet before induction of Mesp1 and Mesp2, a pair of related basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors that together are indispensable for creating heart mesoderm. Sox17 short-hairpin RNA blocks cardiac myogenesis non-cell autonomously and impairs the induction of Hex, a homeodomain transcription factor that is known to be required for the production of endoderm-derived heart-inducing factors.

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