The roles of Smads and Pitx2 in cardiac development

Degang Wang, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


The heart is the first organ to form in vertebrates during embryogenesis, and its circulatory function is essential to embryonic survival. Cardiac morphogenesis comprises a complex series of interactions involving cells from several embryonic origins. These cell-cell interactions are regulated temporally and spatially by programs of inductive signaling events, including BMP signaling transduced by Smads and left-right asymmetry signaling mediated by Pitx2. Disruptions of BMP signaling and left-right asymmetry signaling result in abnormal cardiac morphogenesis that causes congenital heart disease in humans. In this study, conventional and conditional gene targeting approaches were employed to dissect the functions of Smad8 and Smad1, intracellular BMP signaling transducers, and Pitx2, a direct target of left-right signaling, in cardiac development. We generated the Smad8mt mutant allele and the Smad8lacZ knock-in allele. Smad8 homozygous mutant mice were viable and fertile without obvious abnormalities. The Smad8lacZ knock-in allele showed that Smad8 was expressed in the myocardium of cardiac outflow tract and atrioventricular cushions. We did not find defects in these Smad8-expressing cardiac regions in Smad8mt/mt and Smad8lacZ/lacZ mutants, indicating that Smad8 is dispensable for cardiac development. Conditional knockout of Smad1 using the Nkx2.5Cre allele in cardiac mesoderm resulted in partial inactivation of Smad1 in the myocardium and complete deletion of Smad1 in the epicardium, and caused ventricular hypoplasia featured with a thinner compact zone, suggesting that Smad1 signaling in the epicardium is required for myocardial morphogenesis in ventricles. Previous data have shown that Pitx2 null mutants exhibit defects in the cardiac outflow tract, a region populated with cells from the cardiac mesoderm and the cardiac neural crest. We found that the cardiac neural crest normally populated into the outflow tract in Pitx2 null mutant. Moreover, specific deletion of Pitx2 in the neural crest resulted in normal heart formation. Deletion of Pitx2 in the cardiac mesoderm caused defective outflow tract, revealing that the function of Pitx2 in the cardiac outflow tract resides in splanchnic and branchial arch mesoderm, and is independent of cardiac neural crest cells.

Subject Area

Genetics|Molecular biology

Recommended Citation

Wang, Degang, "The roles of Smads and Pitx2 in cardiac development" (2003). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3115900.