Wt1 transcription factor impairs cardiomyocyte specification and drives a phenotypic switch from myocardium to epicardium.
Marques IJ., Ernst A., Arora P., Vianin A., Hetke T., Sanz-Morejón A., Naumann U., Odriozola A., Langa X., Andrés-Delgado L., Zuber B., Torroja C., Osterwalder M., Simões FC., Englert C., Mercader N.
During development, the heart grows by addition of progenitor cells to the poles of the primordial heart tube. In the zebrafish, Wilms tumor 1 transcription factor a (wt1a) and b (wt1b) genes are expressed in the pericardium, at the venous pole of the heart. From this pericardial layer, the proepicardium emerges. Proepicardial cells are subsequently transferred to the myocardial surface and form the epicardium, covering the myocardium. We found that while wt1a and wt1b expression is maintained in proepicardial cells, it is downregulated in pericardial cells that contributes cardiomyocytes to the developing heart. Sustained wt1b expression in cardiomyocytes reduced chromatin accessibility of specific genomic loci. Strikingly, a subset of wt1a- and wt1b-expressing cardiomyocytes changed their cell-adhesion properties, delaminated from the myocardium and upregulated epicardial gene expression. Thus, wt1a and wt1b act as a break for cardiomyocyte differentiation, and ectopic wt1a and wt1b expression in cardiomyocytes can lead to their transdifferentiation into epicardial-like cells.