Ventricular, atrial, and outflow tract heart progenitors arise from spatially and molecularly distinct regions of the primitive streak

More about Open Access at the Crick


The heart develops from 2 sources of mesoderm progenitors, the first and second heart field (FHF and SHF). Using a single-cell transcriptomic assay combined with genetic lineage tracing and live imaging, we find the FHF and SHF are subdivided into distinct pools of progenitors in gastrulating mouse embryos at earlier stages than previously thought. Each subpopulation has a distinct origin in the primitive streak. The first progenitors to leave the primitive streak contribute to the left ventricle, shortly after right ventricle progenitor emigrate, followed by the outflow tract and atrial progenitors. Moreover, a subset of atrial progenitors are gradually incorporated in posterior locations of the FHF. Although cells allocated to the outflow tract and atrium leave the primitive streak at a similar stage, they arise from different regions. Outflow tract cells originate from distal locations in the primitive streak while atrial progenitors are positioned more proximally. Moreover, single-cell RNA sequencing demonstrates that the primitive streak cells contributing to the ventricles have a distinct molecular signature from those forming the outflow tract and atrium. We conclude that cardiac progenitors are prepatterned within the primitive streak and this prefigures their allocation to distinct anatomical structures of the heart. Together, our data provide a new molecular and spatial map of mammalian cardiac progenitors that will support future studies of heart development, function, and disease.