Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

The earliest known progenitor of the outermost layer of the heart has been characterised for the first time and linked to the development of other critical cell types in the developing heart in a new paper from the Srinivas group led by BHF Immediate Fellow Dr Richard Tyser.

Frontal view of a developing mouse heart used in the study

The heart is the first organ to form during development and is critical for the survival of the embryo. The forming heart is very small, less than half a millimetre in width, and so far the precise molecular identity of the various cell types that make up the heart during these early stages have been poorly defined. However, recent years have seen rapid development in techniques which allow an unbiased assessment of molecular identity at the single cell level. Alongside this, advances in imaging technologies have now allowed researchers to visualise heart formation at high resolution and in real time.

In new research from the Srinivas Group led by Dr Richard Tyser and Dr Ximena Ibarra-Soria, the team combined these cutting-edge technologies to profile the molecular identity and precise locations of cells involved in the formation of the mouse embryonic heart. This allowed them to identify the earliest known progenitor of the epicardium, the outermost layer of the heart and an important source of signals and cells during cardiac development and injury.

Dr Tyser said: “The epicardium is known to have a role in both development and disease, especially following a heart attack when it can generate cells required for repair such as fibroblasts, vascular smooth muscle and cardiomyocytes. This study could be therapeutically applicable at two levels: first, understanding the origins of congenital heart defects and second, providing insight into regenerative strategies to treat heart disease.”

The epicardium forms from a tissue called the proepicardium and the origin of this tissue has been unclear to the research community for some time. Additionally, while the epicardium has been profiled in the past, this has only been done during later stages of embryonic development. In a new paper published in Science, Dr Tyser and Dr Ibarra-Soria’s research marks the first time the cells that give rise to the epicardium have been profiled and anatomically localised. In doing so, the team not only identify a new group of cells that give rise to the proepicardium, thus revealing its origin, but they also show that this group of cells can also directly give rise to a second type of heart cell: cardiomyocytes, which are responsible for enabling the heart to contract and thus pump blood around the body.

According to Dr Tyser: “This study has opened up a number of different lines of research. Having characterised the molecular identity of the different progenitor cell types in the forming heart we will now investigate how these progenitors initially form, their lineage relationship and the role of specific genes, identified in this study, during heart development and disease.”

The research was produced in collaboration with John Marioni (University of Cambridge) and Philipp Keller (HHMI Janelia Research Campus).

The full paper “Characterization of a common progenitor pool of the epicardium and myocardium” is available to read in Science.

Similar stories

DPAG hosts successful first Science in the Park event

More than 100 children, along with around 50 parents, grandparents and caregivers enjoyed an exciting variety of activities on the theme of ‘How the Body Works’ in University Parks on Tuesday 26 July. This ‘Science in the Park’ event was run by DPAG’s Outreach and Public Engagement Working Group (OPEWG) and volunteers comprising research scientists, clinical anatomy teaching staff, and graduate and undergraduate students.

Randy Bruno and Scott Waddell receive Wellcome Discovery Awards

Congratulations are in order for Professors Randy Bruno and Scott Waddell who have each been awarded a prestigious Wellcome Trust Discovery Award to significantly enhance our understanding of higher cognitive functions.

Researchers discover novel form of adaptation in the auditory system

DPAG’s auditory neuroscience researchers have found that the auditory system adapts to the changing acoustics of reverberant environments by temporally shifting the inhibitory tuning of cortical neurons to remove reverberation.

Collaborative team driven by DPAG and Chemistry awarded RSC Horizon Prize

The Molecular Flow Sensor Team, with collaborating members principally from DPAG’s Robbins and Talbot groups and the Department of Chemistry, has been named the winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s (RSC) Analytical Division Horizon Prize for the development of a new technology for measuring lung function.

REF 2021 results