From the Cover: Biphasic role for Wnt/beta-catenin signaling in cardiac specification in zebrafish and embryonic stem cells
Understanding pathways controlling cardiac development may offer insights that are useful for stem cell-based cardiac repair. Developmental studies indicate that the Wnt/β-catenin pathway negatively regulates cardiac differentiation, whereas studies with pluripotent embryonal carcinoma cells suggest that this pathway promotes cardiogenesis. This apparent contradiction led us to hypothesize that Wnt/β-catenin signaling acts biphasically, either promoting or inhibiting cardiogenesis depending on timing. We used inducible promoters to activate or repress Wnt/β-catenin signaling in zebrafish embryos at different times of development. We found that Wnt/β-catenin signaling before gastrulation promotes cardiac differentiation, whereas signaling during gastrulation inhibits heart formation. Early treatment of differentiating mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells with Wnt-3A stimulates mesoderm induction, activates a feedback loop that subsequently represses the Wnt pathway, and increases cardiac differentiation. Conversely, late activation of β-catenin signaling reduces cardiac differentiation in ES cells. Finally, constitutive overexpression of the β-catenin-independent ligand Wnt-11 increases cardiogenesis in differentiating mouse ES cells. Thus, Wnt/β-catenin signaling promotes cardiac differentiation at early developmental stages and inhibits it later. Control of this pathway may promote derivation of cardiomyocytes for basic research and cell therapy applications.