An unauthorized biography of the second heart field and a pioneer/scaffold model for cardiac development. uri icon


  • The identification of subpharyngeal cardiac precursors has had a strong influence on the way we think about early cardiac development. From this discovery was born the concept of multiple heart fields. Early support for the concept came from gene expression, genetic retrospective fate mapping, and gene targeting studies, which collectively suggested the existence of a second heart field (SHF) on the basis of specific Islet-1 (Isl-1) expression, presence of two cardiac ancestral lineages, and compatible cardiac knockout phenotypes, respectively. A decade after the original studies, support for the SHF concept is dwindling. This is because in all bilaterian models studied, Isl expression in heart progenitors is not SHF-specific, because lineage data are best explained by alternative models including an older, truly ancestral, lineage of cardiac pioneers with unrestricted contribution to all cardiac segments and, finally, because the inflow-to-outflow segmental nature of the early vertebrate peristaltic heart has been reaffirmed with novel, less invasive, methodologies. Altogether, the paradigms derived from the discovery of subpharyngeal cardiac progenitors helped us shift from relatively simple models, which rely predominantly either on patterning, gene expression patterns or lineages, to a much more sophisticated body of knowledge in which all these parameters must be accounted. Thus, it is well possible that due consideration of the key elements contained in the inflow/outflow, pioneer/scaffold, ballooning, and SHF hypotheses may provide us with a unified framework of the early stages of cardiac development. Here, we advance into this direction by suggesting an intuitive model of early heart development based on the concept of an inflow/outflow scaffold erected by cardiac pioneers, one that is required to assemble all the subsequent cell contribution that emigrates from cardiac progenitor areas.

publication date

  • 2012