Myocardial Tbx20 regulates early atrioventricular canal formation and endocardial epithelial-mesenchymal transition via Bmp2

Xiaoqiang Cai, Aya Nomura-Kitabayashi, Weibin Cai, Jianyun Yan, Vincent M Christoffels, Chen-Leng Cai
Developmental Biology 2011 December 15, 360 (2): 381-90
During early embryogenesis, the formation of the cardiac atrioventricular canal (AVC) facilitates the transition of the heart from a linear tube into a chambered organ. However, the genetic pathways underlying this developmental process are poorly understood. The T-box transcription factor Tbx20 is expressed predominantly in the AVC of early heart tube. It was shown that Tbx20 activates Nmyc1 and suppresses Tbx2 expression to promote proliferation and specification of the atrial and ventricular chambers, yet it is not known if Tbx20 is involved in early AVC development. Here, we report that mice lacking Tbx20 in the AVC myocardium fail to form the AVC constriction, and the endocardial epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is severely perturbed. Tbx20 maintains expression of a variety of genes, including Bmp2, Tbx3 and Hand1 in the AVC myocardium. Intriguingly, we found Bmp2 downstream genes involved in the EMT initiation are also downregulated. In addition, re-expression of Bmp2 in the AVC myocardium substantially rescues the EMT defects resulting from the lack of Tbx20, suggesting Bmp2 is one of the key downstream targets of Tbx20 in AVC development. Our data support a complex signaling network with Tbx20 suppressing Tbx2 in the AVC myocardium but also indirectly promoting Tbx2 expression through Bmp2. The spatiotemporal expression of Tbx2 in the AVC appears to be balanced between these two opposing signals. Overall, our study provides genetic evidence that Tbx20 has essential roles in regulating AVC development that coordinate early cardiac chamber formation.

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