Myogenic and morphogenetic defects in the heart tubes of murine embryos lacking the homeo box gene Nkx2-5.
The murine homeo box gene Nkx2-5 is expressed in precardiac mesoderm and in the myocardium of embryonic and fetal hearts. Targeted interruption of Nkx2-5 resulted in abnormal heart morphogenesis, growth retardation and embryonic lethality at approximately 9-10 days postcoitum (p.c.). Heart tube formation occurred normally in mutant embryos, but looping morphogenesis, a critical determinant of heart form, was not initiated at the linear heart tube stage (8.25-8.5 days p.c.). Commitment to the cardiac muscle lineage, expression of most myofilament genes and myofibrillogenesis were not compromised. However, the myosin light-chain 2V gene (MLC2V) was not expressed in mutant hearts nor in mutant ES cell-derived cardiocytes. MLC2V expression normally occurs only in ventricular cells and is the earliest known molecular marker of ventricular differentiation. The regional expression in mutant hearts of two other ventricular markers, myosin heavy-chain beta and cyclin D2, indicated that not all ventricle-specific gene expression is dependent on Nkx2-5. The data demonstrate that Nkx2-5 is essential for normal heart morphogenesis, myogenesis, and function. Furthermore, this gene is a component of a genetic pathway required for myogenic specialization of the ventricles.