In humans, loss-of-function mutations in ZIC3 cause isolated cardiovascular malformations and X-linked heterotaxy, a disorder with abnormal left-right asymmetry of organs. Zic3 null mice recapitulate the human heterotaxy phenotype but also have early gastrulation defects, axial patterning defects and neural tube defects complicating an assessment of the role of Zic3 in cardiac development. Zic3 is expressed ubiquitously during critical stages of left-right patterning but its later expression in the developing heart remains controversial and the molecular mechanism(s) by which it causes heterotaxy are unknown. To define the temporal and spatial requirements, for Zic3 in left-right patterning, we generated conditional Zic3 mice and Zic3-LacZ-BAC reporter mice. The latter provide compelling evidence that Zic3 is expressed in the mouse node and absent in the heart. Conditional deletion using T-Cre identifies a requirement for Zic3 in the primitive streak and migrating mesoderm for proper left-right patterning and cardiac development. In contrast, Zic3 is not required in heart progenitors or the cardiac compartment. In addition, the data demonstrate abnormal node morphogenesis in Zic3 null mice and identify similar node dysplasia when Zic3 was specifically deleted from the migrating mesoderm and primitive streak. These results define the temporal and spatial requirements for Zic3 in node morphogenesis, left-right patterning and cardiac development and suggest the possibility that a requirement for Zic3 in node ultrastructure underlies its role in heterotaxy and laterality disorders.
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