Rationale: The traditional definition of “cardiovascular” lineages describes the eponymous cell types - cardiomyoctes, endothelial cells, and smooth muscle cells - that arise from a common mesodermal progenitor cell during heart development. Fibroblasts are an abundant mesenchymal population in the mammalian heart which may have multiple, discrete developmental origins. Mesp1 represents the earliest marker of cardiovascular progenitors, contributing to the majority of cardiac lineages. To date no link between Mesp1 and fibroblast generation has been reported.
Objective: We hypothesized progenitor cells expressing Mesp1 can also give rise to cardiac fibroblasts during heart development.
Methods and Results: We generated Mesp1cre/+;R26RmTmG reporter mice where Cre-mediated recombination results in GFP activation in all Mesp1 expressing cells and their progeny. To explore their developmental potential, we isolated GFP+ cells from E7.5 Mesp1cre/+;R26RmTmG mouse. In vitro culture and transplantation studies into SCID mouse kidney capsule as wells as chick embryos showed fibroblastic adoption. Results showed that at E9.5 Mesp1+ and Mesp1- progenitors contributed to the proepicardium organ and later at E11.5 they formed epicardium. Analysis of adult hearts demonstrated that the majority of cardiac fibroblasts are derived from Mesp1 expressing cells. Immunohistochemical analysis of heart sections demonstrated expression of fibroblast markers (including DDR2, PDGFRα and Col1) in cells derived from both Mesp1+ and Mesp1- progenitors. Additionally, we investigated whether the two distinct fibroblast populations have different potency towards reprogramming to cardiomyocytes. Results showed no significant difference between Mesp1 and non-Mesp1 isolated fibroblasts to convert to cardiomyocyte fate.
Conclusions: Our data demonstrates that cardiovascular progenitors expressing Mesp1 contribute to the proepicardium. These cells, as cardiovascular progenitors, also give rise to the highest portion of cardiac fibroblasts in the mouse heart.