Hedgehog signaling plays a cell-autonomous role in maximizing cardiac developmental potential.
Elucidation of the complete roster of signals required for myocardial specification is crucial to the future of cardiac regenerative medicine. Prior studies have implicated the Hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathway in the regulation of multiple aspects of heart development. However, our understanding of the contribution of Hh signaling to the initial specification of myocardial progenitor cells remains incomplete. Here, we show that Hh signaling promotes cardiomyocyte formation in zebrafish. Reduced Hh signaling creates a cardiomyocyte deficit, and increased Hh signaling creates a surplus. Through fate-mapping, we find that Hh signaling is required at early stages to ensure specification of the proper number of myocardial progenitors. Genetic inducible fate mapping in mouse indicates that myocardial progenitors respond directly to Hh signals, and transplantation experiments in zebrafish demonstrate that Hh signaling acts cell autonomously to promote the contribution of cells to the myocardium. Thus, Hh signaling plays an essential early role in defining the optimal number of cardiomyocytes, making it an attractive target for manipulation of multipotent progenitor cells.